Tuesday, July 24, 2012

London 2012: Pre-Day One, Part Two

Just four days remain until the start of swimming at the London Olympics, and the men’s breaststrokes provide some interesting storylines early on during the week of Olympic swimming. On day two of the program, Kosuke Kitajima has a shot at becoming the first man to ever win three straight Olympic titles in one event, provided Michael Phelps fails to do so a day earlier in the 400 IM. Alexander Dale Oen won the World championship last year in an impressive 58.71, but Dale Oen tragically died this spring, opening the door for world-leading Kitajima (58.90) to reclaim the favorite spot. As always, he’ll see competition in the form of countryman Ryo Tateishi, Italy’s Fabio Scozolli, South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh, Brazil’s Felipe Silva, Australian world record-holder Brenton Rickard, and of course, longtime American rival Brendan Hansen.

Hansen has entered the past two Olympic Games as a favorite in the 100 breast, but now, most have put him into an underdog role. His times this year have not indicated that he can make a run at gold, but he knows that after twice falling short, the 100 breast final could be his last shot at individual glory. Hansen remains a darkhorse, but a darkhorse with a real shot. Meanwhile, American record-holder Eric Shanteau joins Hansen in the 100 distance, but Shanteau will fight just to get into the final. Surprisingly, Shanteau did not qualify in the 200 breast, his better event, so he has only one shot at an Olympic final, something he fell two spots short of in the 200 breast in Beijing.

Kitajima leads the World this year in the 200 breast as well, with a 2:08.00 from March, but Tateishi stands right behind at 2:08.17. Fast, but potentially not fast enough. Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta has won two straight World titles in the event, coming from behind on the last lap twice to overtake Shanteau in 2009 and Kitajima in 2011. Germany brings star power in Christian Vom Lehn and Marco Koch, while Britain’s hopes lie with the likes of Andrew Willis and Michael Jamieson. Wherever you look in the 200 breast, you find big names. Except, you might notice, among the Americans.

In quite a twist of fate, Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle will represent the U.S. in the 200 breast. Weltz, best known as the B-final winner at Winter Nationals – in other words, hardly known – broke onto the scene with a 2:09.01 to win Trials, and that time definitely puts him into the hunt to at least make the final. If he keeps improving at the rate in which he dropped time at Trials, the sky could be the limit for Weltz. Burckle, meanwhile, has shown some consistency this year with a pair of sub-2:10 swims that, again, should put him into final contention. Both will have to show me more, though, before I pick them to medal.

Kitajima was staking out his American competition in Omaha at U.S. Trials.

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