Precisely a year before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, SwimNews put together a form guide for events in Beijing. It was August 2007. A year on, we start our preview build-up to the Games in Beijing with a look at how the seascape has changed, who is still in the race, who is out and where the medals are likely to go.
The impact of the latest generation of bodysuits since the launch of the Speedo LZR Racer in February is as marked as it is unavoidable. There are still those who would play it down. Time to stop. The argument will largely go away the moment the sport says 'this has had a vastly significant impact across the board, we acknowledge it, we accept it, embrace it, and decide to either keep it or reject it'. We know what the decision will be. So, what's the problem? In part, it's pride: understandable that coaches and swimmers would wish to claim every ounce of excellence for themselves. But buyers of the bodysuit beware. There is a future and that will soon tell us if drops of around 2% across the board are normal or not. Do we suppose that the 2010 season will throw up this sort of impact: world records broken pre-Games or witness half of history's best top 30 times ever in the 100m and 200m butterfly? Time will tell. Here's what unfolded since February:
100m: 3/10 all-time performers from 2008; 15/30 entries from 2008
200m: 7/10 all-time performers from 2008; 16/30 entries from 2008
The burning question: Despite the above, the world records, phenomenal as they are, pre-date the new suits. So, where is the event going at the helm? Who can swim within Michael Phelps's wash on 200m? And can Ian Crocker finally have his day at the expense of Superfish's perfect storm of eight golden crowns, critical as all of that is to Phelps being able to match Spitz, in terms of winning all his gold medals in finals, and claiming the Speedo $1m?
And on that note, here's what's in store:
THE BEIJING FORM GUIDE
World record: 50.40 - Ian Crocker (USA), Montreal, 30.7.05
2004 Olympic champion: Michael Phelps (USA) 51.25
2007 World champion: Phelps, 50.77
The picture in August 2007:
3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Phelps; Ian Crocker (USA); Albert Subirats (VEN)
2 Breakers: Milorad Cavic (SRB); Jason Dunford (KEN)
2 Bubbling Under: Lydon Ferns (RSA); Nikolay Skvortsov (RUS)
1 On The Edge: Andriy Serdinov (UKR)
Don't forget: Kaio Almeida (BRA); Ryan Pini (PNG); Lars Frolander (SWE)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
50.40 Crocker, Ian USA 2005
50.77 Phelps, Michael USA 2007
51.36 Serdinov, Andriy UKR 2004
51.70 Cavic, Milorad SRB 2007
51.81 Subirats, Albert VEN 2007
51.81 Klim, Michael AUS 1999
51.81 Skvortsov, Nikolai RUS 2007
51.85 Dunford, Jason KEN 2007
51.88 Rupprath, Thomas GER 2002
51.90 Ferns, Lyndon RSA 2007
New impact on all-time top 10: Phelps; Cavic; Skovortsov; Subirats; Dunford; Ferns
The picture in August 2008:
With half of the all-time top 15 times having been established since February, the pace of progress is stark in whichever way you care to measure it. Take Denis Pankratov's world-record win in Atlanta 1996: 52.27 is now 34th best all time. Contrast that with Kieren Perkins's 14:41.66 1994 world record in the 1,500m free: still second-best ever. Swimmers from no fewer than 21 nations are now faster than the 1996 Olympic champion.
The World Top 10, 2008:
50.89 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 50.77
51.32 Crocker, Ian USA 2007 50.82
51.50 Bousquet, Frederick FRA 2007 53.65
51.65 Cavic, Milorad SRB 2007 51.70
51.71 Kawamoto, Kohei JPN 2007 53.64
51.86 Stovall, William G USA 2007 52.82
51.86 Kishida, Masayuki JPN 2007 53.55
51.89 Korotyshkin, Evgeni RUS 2007 52.74
51.91 Lauterstein, Andrew AUS 2007 52.53
52.01 Mangabeira, Gabriel BRA 2007 52.43
Danger just outside the top 10: and 11th and 12th on 52.07 and 52.09 respectively, Peter Mankoc (SLO) and Rafael Munoz (ESP), the latter up from a 2007 best of 53.24, reflect the tightening nature of the pack whose work is leading to the first sub-50sec effort on butterfly. Jim Montgomery, Montreal and all that. Good grief!
The Battle: For Michael Phelps, all of his events represent crunch time. Each bite prepared for in its own time and method. The 100m butterfly is one of the biggest bites he will need to take if Ian Crocker can get down below that 2005 blast of 50.40sec. Given Phelps's improvement in the 100m free at US trials (precisely half a second off in a year), it is not too hard to see that bodysuited-up for the big one, the potential for a big gain on the sprint 'fly is obvious. The danger man may well be US-based Milorad Cavic (SRB), who was kept of of the 100m at the European Championships for wearing a t-shirt that stated how he felt about political developments close to home. Cavic has yet to have a rested blowout in cutting technology. Watch for it.
Most consistent: Crocker over time and Phelps in the past two seasons
History: Four men have won both the 100m and 200m crowns, American Mark Spitz (1972), Russian Denis Pankratov (RUS) and American Michael Phelps (2004) at the same Games and Michael the ?Albatross? Gross (GER) four years apart (1984, 100m; 1988, 200m). Spitz, Gross and Phelps are the only three men to have won three Olympic butterfly medals. The first 100m Olympic crown went to Douglas Russell (USA) in 55.9sec in 1968, 0.5sec ahead of young teammate Mark Spitz. Before the race, the Californians had raced each other nine times and on each occasion Russell would take the lead from the blocks before being caught in the closing metres. In Mexico, he switched tactics to defeat Spitz from behind in the closing metres.
Among the heartening tales from Olympic history is the eventual success of Pablo Morales (USA). The offspring of Cuban immigrants, Morales, 19, clocked a world record of 53.38 at the US Olympic trials in 1984, improved to 53.23 at the Games only to find himself 0.15sec behind Gross, on a 53.08 global mark. Coached at Santa Clara by Mitch Ivey, Olympic bronze medallist over 200m backstroke in 1972 behind Roland Matthes, Morales took Gross?s world mark down to 52.84 on June 23, 1986, at Orlando. There it would stand for nine years. But at the 1988 US trials, Morales finished third and quit the sport to read law. The death of his mother, Blanca prompted Morales to make a comeback in late 1991. At 27 in Barcelona, he became the oldest winner of the butterfly sprint crown in 53.32.
Americans have claimed five Olympic titles (1968; 1972, 1976; 1992, 2004), with Sweden?s two (1980, 2000) next best. Of the 30 medals on offer since 1968, 13 have gone to Americans, with Australia next best on four medals. The title has never been retained. The 100m is famous for producing the first black Olympic swimming champion, in the form of US-based Surinamese, Anthony Nesty, in 1988. Spitz holds the record for number of world records broken, at seven.
Fastest: 51.25: Michael Phelps (USA)
World Record wins: Mark Spitz (USA), 1972; Michael Gross (FRG), 1984; Denis Pankratov (RUS), 1996.
Biggest margin: Spitz?s 54.27 victory in 1972, the first and only sub 55sec swim at the Games, left him 1.29sec ahead of Bruce Robertson (CAN).
Closest shave: Anthony Nesty (SUR) kept Matt Biondi (USA) at bay by 0.01sec in 1988, his 53.00 win an Olympic record that also made him the first black swimmer in history to win an Olympic crown.
Most controversial: In the absence of scandal, boycott raised the biggest questions. The winning time in Moscow 1980, a 54.92 by Par Arvidsson (SWE), was surpassed by William Paulus and Matt gribble in the USA and by Michael Gross in West Germany within a week of the Olympic final going without them.
World Record: 1:52.09 - Michael Phelps (USA), Melbourne, 28.3.07
2004 Olympic champion: Phelps, 1:54.04
2007 World champion: Phelps, 1:52.09 wr
The picture in August 2007:
3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Phelps; Wu Peng (CHN); Skvortsov
2 Breakers: Moss Burmester (NZL); Almeida
2 Bubbling Under: Ryuichi Shibata (JPN); Takeshi Matsuda (JPN)
1 On The Edge: Pawel Korzeniowski (POL)
Don't forget: David Tarwater (USA); Chen Yin (CHN); Ioannis Drymonakos (GRE)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
1:52.09 Phelps, Michael USA 2007
1:54.56 Yamamoto, Takashi JPN 2004
1:54.62 Esposito, Franck FRA 2002
1:54.91 Wu, Peng CHN 2006
1:54.93 Korzeniowski, Pawel POL 2007
1:54.99 Shibata, Ryuichi JPN 2007
1:55.03 Malchow, Tom USA 2001
1:55.22 Pankratov, Denis RUS 1995
1:55.22 Skvortsov, Nikolai RUS 2007
1:55.35 Burmester, Moss NZL 2007
New impact on all-time top 10: Phelps (faster than previous entry); Skovortsov; Burmester
The picture in August 2008:
More than half of the 30 best times ever swum were set since February this year. Enough said. Michael Phelps became the first man inside 1:55 when he broke Tom Malchow's world record in 2001. By the end of last year, four other men had joined him. In the past five months, the club of sub-1:54 men has grown to 12, among them the world champion's Olympic teammate Gil Stovall, at 5ft 9in (1.75m) the shortest man on the US team but by no means the furthest away from the lofty heights of the ultimate podium.
The World Top 10, 2008:
1:52.20 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 1:52.09
1:53.86 Stovall, William G USA 2007 1:56.58
1:54.16 Drymonakos, Ioannis GRE 2007 1:56.47*
1:54.38 Korzeniowski, Pawel POL 2007 1:54.93
1:54.42 Matsuda, Takeshi JPN 2007 1:55.52
1:54.46 Tarwater, Davis USA 2007 1:56.03
1:54.65 Skvortsov, Nikolai RUS 2007 1:55.22
1:54.82 Wu, Peng CHN 2007 1:55.13
1:54.99 Burmester, Moss NZL 2007 1:55.35
1:55.10 D'Arcy, Nick AUS 2007 1:57.15**
* suspended for doping - 2-year ban
** removed from Australian Olympic team after facing charges of assault
Danger just outside the top 10: Nikita Lobintsev (RUS) and Craig Stevens (AUS) have both got down to 3:46 oflate.
The Battle: 22-year-old Stovall is on the move big time, the former world champion Korzeniowski lurks, the Greek threat has proven to be a pharmaceutical mirage, the pressure on 1:54 is building and we can expect more progress - but Phelps, the standard-bearer, is racing in another pool.
Most consistent: Phelps on all counts
History: The first Olympic crown went to William Yorzyk (USA) by the biggest winning margin ever. If he had something about him then, he kept the magic throughout his life: by 1984 he was a 57-year-old anesthesiologist capable of swimming 2:11 in a 200 yard butterfly race, a time faster than his best from a time when he led the world in his youth. Americans have claimed eight Olympic titles (1956; 1960, 1968; 1972, 1976, 1992, 2000, 2004), with Australians and Russians claiming two each. Of the 39 medals on offer since 1956, 17 have gone to Americans, with Australia next best on five medals. The title has never been retained. Michael Phelps (USA) could change all of that in Beijing.
Fastest: 1:54.04: Michael Phelps (USA), 2004
World Record wins: Mike Troy (USA), 1960; Kevin Berry (AUS), 1964; Mark Spitz (USA), 1972; Mike Brunner (USA), 1976; Jon Sieben (AUS), 1984.
Biggest margin: William Yorzyk (USA), clocked 2:19.3 to win the inaugural crown in 1956, a time that left him 4.5sec ahead of Takashi Ishimoto (JPN). That margin may never be repeated again, perhaps, although Phelps won the world title in 2007 by 3.04sec.
Closest shave: Carl Robie (USA) claimed the title by just 0.3sec ahead of Martin Woodroofe (GBR) in 1968 in a final that saw Mark Spitz finish eighth. Since times to the hundredth became the norm, margins of 0.32sec and 0.36sec split gold and silver in 1976 (Mike Bruner and Steven Gregg, USA) and 1984 (Jon Sieben, AUS, and Michael Gross, FRG) respectively.
Most controversial: Once again, boycott is the thing that skewed history. The 1980 crown went to Sergei Fesenko (URS) in 1:59.76, slower than the 1976 win and slower too than 1:58.21 world record set by Craig Beardsley (USA) in heats at USA nationals 10 days later. If three men in the final raced inside the Olympic winning time, then the 1976 silver medal winner Steve Gregg, raced to last place in 2:00.98, faster than the Olympic silver medal winner in Moscow.