Wednesday, July 25, 2012

London 2012: Pre-Day One, Part Three

Last year at World Championships, Americans Dana Vollmer and Michael Phelps won the women’s and men’s 100 fly World titles, respectively. Heading into the Olympics, both remain strong favorites to take home gold again in those events, but neither has created enough separation from the field to cruise to a win. Others who had lackluster performances last summer in Shanghai have returned as strong candidates to push for the gold medal spots.

Just three years ago in Rome, Sarah Sjostrom took the world by storm when she took Inge de Brujin’s almost decade-old world record of 56.61 off the books on her way to gold at the Worlds. Sjostrom then went on to win a second straight European title the following year. At the Worlds in Shanghai, though, she fell flat and finished fourth, behind Vollmer, Alicia Coutts, and Lu Ying. At the same time, Sjostrom emerged as a legitimate freestyle threat on the world stage, making the final of the 200 free in Shanghai and finishing 2011 with the top time in the world in the 100 free.

Sjostrom showed some of her cards earlier in the year at the British Olympic Trials in the Olympic pool. There, among a slate of fast freestyle swims, Sjostrom got under 57 in the 100 fly for the first time, reaffirming her status as one of the premier 100 flyers in the world. Sjostrom can close the 100 fly like no one else out there, even running down the likes of Jessicah Schipper, a former World champ in the 200 fly, when she won the title in Rome in 2009. Vollmer always takes the race out hard, and she will need to be out hard in London but have enough in the tank to hold off Sjostrom. Vollmer has targeted Sjostrom’s world record, a 56.06, all year long, and she may need to go that fast to win gold.

One of the most memorable moments from Beijing came on day seven, when Phelps out-touched Milorad Cavic by just one one-hundredth of a second for the gold in the 100 fly. The two reenacted one of the most controversial calls in sports one year later in Rome, but this time, no one doubted Phelps, who took down Cavic as both broke 50 seconds for the first and only time ever. Back surgery then sidelined Cavic for over a year, and he failed to advance out of the prelims in the 100 fly in Shanghai.

When Cavic swam at the European Championships this year, he made a loud and clear statement to the world: “I’m back.” Cavic won the 100 fly in 51.41, a time which stands as the third-fastest in the world headed into London behind the American duo of Phelps and Tyler McGill. Back training with Mike Bottom, the same coach who guided him to silver in Beijing, Cavic will swim faster in London. No one has swum under 51 this year, and Cavic knows that he – along with Phelps and potentially others – can swim that time in London.

Cavic knows how to take the 100 fly out fast; his first 50 split of 22.6 at Worlds in 2009 well surpassed Phelps’ 23.3. Phelps, though, can fight out of any tough situation he finds himself in, as he did at Olympic Trials, when he touched sixth at the halfway point. No one can position themselves far enough ahead to where Phelps doesn’t have a shot. I do think Cavic will return to the Olympic podium, an amazing accomplishment after where he stood a year ago, but Phelps now owns the 100 fly, and I think we will see some fireworks.

To be continued tomorrow with one final preview. I’ll take a look at one final event, one in which provided perhaps the biggest surprise of the U.S. Trials last month.

That's Phelps way back in his 100 fly semi-final from Trials. He needs to avoid that in London.

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