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, as the Games are about to get underway, we continue 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.
At the top end of the medley events, the burgeoning duel between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte is crunch times down to levels that would once have been thought all but impossible. Phelps's world records are now just about as fast over 200m as Mark Spitz was when he first got below Don Schollander's 200 free world record, and the 400m standard is on a par with that in terms of the time and stroke warp, with an eye to West German Hans Fassnacht's 4:04.00 mark on freestyle in 1969. The impact of the latest generation of bodysuits must be taken into account, given this set of world records broken since February 2008, and given the following numbers that suggest a greater impact on the shorter distances:
200m: 4/10 all-time performers from 2008; 12/30 entries from 2008
400m: 4/10 all-time performers from 2008; 6/30 entries from 2008
The burning question: What did Phelps truly think at US trials when Lochte got so close? On past form, those moments would have fed further ferocity in Superfish. Doubtless they will again. So can Lochte go with him? And how close can Laszlo Cseh get? Take the impact of evening heats and morning semis into consideration and then consider this measure of progress in the 200m: in 2004, it took a 2:02.11 to make the semis, and in 2008 so far the 16th best time in the world is 2:00.10; in 2004, five men qualified for the final in a time over 2mins, with 2:01.09 good enough for a place in the final, while 8th place in the world this year so far is 1:59.15, faster than Tamas Darnyi ever was. In the past 18 months, the great Hungarian has slipped form 6th all-time to 13th.
And on that note, here's what's in store:
THE BEIJING FORM GUIDE
World record: 1:54.80 - Michael Phelps (USA), Omaha, 4.7.08
2004 Olympic champion: Phelps, 1:57.14or
2007 World champion: Phelps, 1:54.98wr
The picture in August 2007:
3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Phelps; Lochte; Laszlo Cseh (HUN)
2 Breakers: Pereira; Brian Johns (CAN)
2 Bubbling Under: Tamas Kerekjarto (HUN); Vyatautas Janusaitis (LTU)
1 On The Edge: Liam Tancock (GBR)
Don't forget: Shanteau; Ken Takakuwa (JPN) Kamil Kasprowicz (GER, 2:02.95, 2006 to 2:00.47, April 2007)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
1:54.98 Phelps, Michael USA 2007
1:56.11 Lochte, Ryan USA 2006
1:56.92 Cseh, Laszlo HUN 2007
1:57.79 Pereira, Thiago BRA 2007
1:58.05 Shanteau, Eric USA 2006
1:58.16 Sievinen, Jani FIN 1994
1:58.80 Bovell, George TRI 2004
1:58.98 Rosolino, Massi ITA 2000
1:59.19 Tancock, Liam GBR 2007
1:59.36 Darnyi, Tamas HUN 1991
New impact on all-time top 10: Phelps; Cseh; Pereira; Johns
The picture in August 2008:
The current world ranking, pre-Games almost matches what was the all-time list at the end of 2007. Until 2007, Jani Sievinen (FIN) was still second best ever. Now he's 8th and sliding, with that 1:58.16 world record, which survived almost nine years from 1994.
The World Top 10, 2008:
1:54.80 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 1:54.98
1:55.22 Lochte, Ryan USA 2007 1:56.19
1:57.43 Cseh, Laszlo HUN 2007 1:56.92
1:57.72 Goddard, James GBR 2007 2:00.13
1:57.79 Tancock, Liam GBR 2007 1:59.19
1:58.15 Shanteau, Eric USA 2007 1:59.56
1:58.74 Pereira, Thiago BRA 2007 1:57.79
1:59.15 Tait, Gregor GBR 2007 2:01.25
1:59.28 Fujii, Takuro JPN 2007 1:59.92
1:59.65 Jukic, Dinko AUT 2007 2:01.34
Danger just outside the top 10: none. The battle is in the 1:54 to 1:56 range.
The Battle: For Michael Phelps, two world titles and Thorpey's world record under his belt, the four-lap freestyle is part of an eight-event programme that could deliver one gold beyond Spitz's seven. The American has a clear advantage over the pack but the dam is building. The biggest breaker has been Jean Basson, of South Africa, who leapt from a 1:29 best to a 1:45.85 at RSA trials in April. Hoogie, 2000 champion and second to Thorpe ahead of Phelps in that 2004 final somewhat prematurely described as 'the race of the century', should not be discounted, still in there on a sub-1:46 effort in full training phase.
Most consistent: Phelps has 13 of the all-time best 20 efforts; this year, Phelps has four of the top 12 best times, including No1 and 3
History: There has been only one clean sweep in medley history: the USA, led by Charles Hickcox, claiming all places on the podium in the 200m in 1968. That same year, Hickcox became the first to win both medley crowns – at the first opportunity, the 200m introduced at the Games in Mexico City. Since Hickcox, four men have claimed the double: Gunnar Larsson (SWE), 1972; Baumann, 1984; Darnyi, who did it twice, in 1988 and 1992; and Phelps, 2004, who is aiming to join Darnyi's exclusive club of one during the Games in Beijing this summer. Darnyi is the only man ever to retain both medley crowns, while Tom Dolan (USA) retained the 400m title in 2000. World-record victories have been witnessed in nine of the 19 finals held over 200m and 400m since 1964, while it has taken an Olympic record to win 16 of the 19 titles.
Among pivotal moments in the evolution of medley speed in Olympic waters: the biggest leap in the world record in an Olympic 200m final was the 2:07.17 victory of Larsson in 1972; the first sub 2-minute 200m medley was delivered by Attila Czene (HUN) in 1996; Baumann produced the first sub-4:20 win in the 400m in 1984; the 4:08.26 victory of Phelps in the 400m in 2004 marked the first sub-4:10 effort.
In terms of the success of stroke specialists in medley, three men who have stood on a butterfly podium have also won medley medals – Gary Hall, Pablo Morales and Phelps, all Americans; backstroke medal winners who made the medley grade are Hickcox, Zoltan Verraszto (HUN) and Stefano Battistelli (ITA); the closest that a world-leading breaststroker came to reaching the medley podium was a fourth place for Jozsef Szabo (HUN) in the 400m in 1988; freestyle medal winners who took medley medals are Massimiliano Rosolino (ITA); Erik Vendt (USA); Phelps.
Hickcox was the inaugural 200m champion in 1968, on 2:12.0, an Olympic record. By 2004, that standard stood at 1:57.14, courtesy of Phelps. It was not until 1992 that all eight finalists raced inside 2:05. Time is coming when the even will produce a sub-2-minute field. In terms of quality and longevity, the 2:01.42 victory of Baumann in 1984 stands out: the time would have placed him within 0.6sec of the podium at the following four Games and gave him what remained the biggest winning margin – 1.63sec over Pablo Morales (USA) – in the history of the event until Phelps in 2004, when the American finished 1.64sec ahead of teammate Ryan Lochte. Hungarians have claimed three (1988; 1992; 1996) of the eight titles, with the USA on two (1968, 2004). Americans have won 11 of the 24 medals since 1968. Darnyi is the only man to have retained the crown. The 200m is one of those events that was introduced, dropped and reintroduced. After being held twice, in 1968 and 1972, the 200m was removed from the race schedule in 1976 and 1980 as the IOC attempted to curb growing numbers of participants in the Games. Technically, Larsson is therefore one of the longest-reigning Olympic champions in history, the crown passing to Baumann 12 years on, in 1984.
Fastest: 1:57.14: Michael Phelps (USA), 2004.
World Record wins: Larsson, 1972; Baumann, 1984; Darnyi, 1988.
Biggest margin: Phelps’s 1.64sec win over Lochte; Baumann finished 1.63sec ahead of Morales in 1984.
Closest shave: Darnyi retained the crown in 1992 by 0.21sec over Greg Burgess (USA), who in turn was just 0.03sec ahead of Czene, who was 0.28sec ahead of Jani Sievinen (FIN) – the tightest top-four finish in history.
Most controversial: In 1998, Rosolino won the Italian title in 2:04.16, a personal best. A year later, he retained the crown in 2:02.57 and ended the year with a best time of 2:01.46. He reduced that to 2:00.62 at the European Championships four months before the Olympic Games in Sydney. At the Games, Rosolino came home to a 1:58.98 Olympic record and gold medal, with Dolan almost a second away and Tom Wilkens (USA) a further second back. Not only had Rosolino become the first swimmer to stand on a podium for the 400m freestyle and 200m medley but in 2008 he remained the only male swimmer ever to have made the final of both those races. Rosolino leapt out of the water and on to his starting block, punched the air with glee and flexed his muscles. At his press conference, he told the media that he was proud to have become a champion without resorting to anything more than 'spaghetti with every flavour of sauce'. Two weeks later, news broke in the Italian media that Rosolino was one of 61 Italian athletes named in an official report of the Italian Olympic Committee who were alleged to have tested positive for elevated levels of human growth hormone. Rosolino said he would sue the Italian media, a government inquiry began and was then halted on the grounds of'privacy', and Rosolino moved his training base to Australia for a while. He later refused to answer questions about the affair.
WR: 4:05.25 - Phelps, Omaha, 29.6.08
2004 Olympic champion: Phelps, 4:08.26
2007 World champion: Phelps, 4:06.22
The picture in August 2007:
3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Phelps; Lochte; Luca Marin (ITA)
2 Breakers: Pereira; (Mellouli, in the event of no result as yet from the doping violation case before CAS);
2 Bubbling Under: Gergo Kiss (HUN); David Verraszto (HUN)
1 On The Edge: Vendt
Don't forget: Drymonakos; Alessio Boggatto (ITA).
All-time top 10, end 2007:
4:06.22 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 4:10.16
4:09.63 Cseh, Laszlo HUN 2005 4:12.15
4:09.74 Lochte, Ryan USA 2007 4:11.53
4:09.88 Marin, Luca ITA 2007 4:14.15
4:11.14 Pereira, Thiago BRA 2007 4:14.67
4:11.27 Vendt, Erik USA 2002 4:14.19
4:11.76 Dolan, Tom USA 2000 4:29.29
4:12.28 Boggiatto, Alessio ITA 2004 4:15.91
4:12.36 Darnyi, Tamas HUN 1991
4:12.92 Margalis, Robert USA 2006 4:16.25
New impact on all-time top 10: Phelps, Lochte, Marin, Pereira; Mellouli
The picture in August 2008:
This is one event in which there is no solid evidence that pressure building in the pack could lead to a serious challenge when it comes to deciding the medals. Phelps, Lochte and Cseh are out in front. Pereira may be due a drop but at the helm the focus is on 4:05-4:06.
The World Top 10, 2008:
4:05.25 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 4:06.22
4:06.08 Lochte, Ryan USA 2007 4:09.74
4:07.96 Cseh, Laszlo HUN 2007 4:12.35
4:12.59 Haffield, Thomas GBR 2007 4:18.71
4:12.90 Pereira, Thiago BRA 2007 4:11.14
4:13.85 Margalis, Robert USA 2007 4:17.52
4:14.13 Clary, Scott T. USA 2007 4:19.72
4:14.72 Drymonakos, Ioannis GRE 2007 4:15.43
4:14.99 Vendt, Erik USA 2007 4:14.75
4:15.87 Boggiatto, Alessio ITA 2007 4:15.85
Danger just outside the top 10: watch for a drop from Gergo Kis (HUN) and keep your eye on Luca Marin (ITA), the man Gaul has reason to loathe. The Italian, former boyfriend of Miss Manaudou, slipped back to 4:16 from a 4:09 in 2007, but he swims next to Phelps in the last heat today in Beijing.
The Battle: Likely to come down to Phelps and the challenge from Lochte, with Cseh a constant threat and Marin on the edge, though needing to drop another couple of seconds from his best to get in the medal mix. All others are looking to challenge 4:10, not 4:05.
Most consistent: Cseh and Phelps have a slight edge on Lochte but not much in it.
History: The crown has been retained twice in history: Darnyi (1988,1992); Dolan (1996, 2000). American swimmers have dominated the event, winning the crown six times in 11 finals, claiming 15 medals out of 33. Every time an American has won, a teammate has taken the silver medal, for six one-two finishes. The standout duels were between Hickcox and Hall in 1968, Larsson and Tim McKee (USA) in 1972 [see most controversial, below], Dolan and Eric Namesnik in 1996.
Namesnik, who won silver in close races in 1992 and 1996, accounts for the saddest story from the annals of the 400m medley history. On January 7, 2006, while driving home from morning training as a coach to Club Wolverine in Michigan, Namesnik was involved in an accident on an icy road. He died four days later from the injuries he sustained. Known as “Snik”, he was survived by wife Kirsten Silvester, a former Dutch swimmer, and their two children, Austin and Madison.
The most successful 400m medley swimmer pre-Beijing is Darnyi, with two world titles, two Olympic crowns, four European titles and three world records to his credit. Pre-Phelps, the most prolific world-record setter was Hall, with eight standards, five of them in the 400m, to his name. Between the Games in 1964 and spring 1968, Tokyo Olympic champion Dick Roth’s world record stood firm. Then, in April of Olympic year, Andrei Dunaev (URS) shaved 0.1sec off the mark with a 4:45.3 effort in Tallinn. On July 6, Greg Buckingham (USA) clocked 4:45.1 at Santa Clara and on July 20, Gary Hall improved the standard to 4:43.5 in Los Angeles. A month later, at US trials, Hall and Buckingham made the grade but both were beaten by the first sub-4:40 effort, a 4:39.0 stunner by Charles Hickcox.
In Mexico City, where events of 200m and over were affected by high altitude, the final was a neck-and-neck battle between Hickcox and Hall every stroke of the eight lengths. Hickcox led the way on butterfly, turning 0.2sec ahead of Hall in 1:02.4, Hall claimed the edge on backstroke, the teammates turning in 2:15.5 and 2:15.9, before Hickcox gained the upper hand on breaststroke, turning 0.3sec ahead of Hall on 3:44.6. And there it stayed. By the touch, Hickcox was champion in 4:48.4, 0.3sec ahead of Hall.
Over the next four years, Hall would break the world record a further four times, leaving the standard at 4:30.81 at US Olympic trials in 1972 before finishing fifth in Munich in the most controversial 400m medley final in history. Hall took silver in the 200m butterfly in 1972 and bronze in the 100m butterfly in 1976 and held world records on 200m backstroke and butterfly and both medleys to prove himself one of the most versatile swimmers in history.
Fastest: 4:08.26, Phelps (2004)
World Record wins: Roth, 1964; Rod Starchan (USA), 1976; Baumann, 1984; Darnyi, 1988; Dolan, 2000; Phelps, 2004.
Biggest margin: Phelps’s 4:08.26 victory in Athens, 2004, left him 3.55sec ahead of teammate Erik Vendt, who in taking silver for the second time ensured that a man named Eric(k) finished second for the fourth Games in succession.
Closest shave:0.002sec separated Gunnar Larsson and Tim McKee in the most controversial 400m medley final in history, and one of the most controversial decisions in swimming history.
Most controversial: Only once in Olympic history has a race ended with two men being granted a joint Olympic record but one man given gold and the other silver. The 1972 final saw Larsson and McKee clock 4:31.98. For eight minutes, time stood still on the scoreboard, the result the first shared victory in Olympic swimming history. Officials then declared Larsson the champion: 4:31.981 to 4:31.983. Never again would such a distinction be made: thousandths of a second ruled inadmissible in a 1973 FINA vote.