Beijing Form Guide: Men's Sprint Freestyle
Craig Lord
Countdown to 08/08/08: SwimNews begins its preview to the Games with a look at how the seascape has changed in the past year, who is still in the race, who is out and where the medals are likely to go. Today: Men's Sprint Freestyle

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.

Men's Sprint Freestyle


While all things across the spectrum of performance gains, from talent, hard work and great coaching all the way to the darkness of doping, must be considered to have played a part in the progress we have seen in the pool in the past 12 months, the impact of the latest generation of bodysuits since the launch of the Speedo LZR Racer is as marked as it is unavoidable, particularly in races of 50m and 100m, while the effect on events 400m or longer is less obvious. Here's a reminder of the world records broken at the helm of a sports-wide surge in standards since February 2008.

Those records are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the revolution that has taken place in the all-time performances and performers lists. In men's freestyle, times since February have changed the all-time lists like no other season in the past 25 years. Here's a snapshot of the numbers in the sprint events:

50m: 8/10 all-time performers (one entry per person) from 2008; 22/30 best performances (multiple entries by same swimmer) ever from 2008
100m: 6/10 all-time performers from 2008; 17/30 performances from 2008

Impressive, but could it be that those events were similarly affected in the past three Olympic years, 2004, 2000 and 1996 in terms of numbers of pre-Games swims that changed the face of the all-time list? The the answer is 'no'. Not even close: here we compare the number of performances (multiple entry) that altered the all-time top 30 in Olympic year, prior to the Games in the past four Olympic years for the 50m and 100m freestyle:

50m - 2008: 22/30; 2004: 4/30; 2000: 14/30 (first Games at which full bodysuits were worn); 1996: 1/30.
100m - 2008: 17/30; 2004: 3/30; 2000: 14/30 (first Games at which full bodysuits were worn); 1996: 2/30.

Controversy: Adding spice to the sprint mix, Gary Hall Jr, the 2000 and 2004 Olympic champion and one of the most medalled men in the Olympic pool, raised the thorny of issue of suits v doping: could one be masking the other, he asked. He answered 'believe so' and was beaten about the head with some hefty verbal blows. Pity. It is the responsibility of everyone who believes in clean sport and fair play to speak up and refuse to be portrayed as spoil sports and naysayers. I heard a couple of pom-pom waving cheerleaders wearing rose-tinted goggles whispering that they loved the sport more than the likes of Hall. They lie. Vigilance is part of the game and leaves plenty of room for celebration of an abundance of clean performance. The moment the 50m sprint in swimming becomes like the 100m on the track, which has at times been watched by vast numbers of people who wonder at the legitimacy of the entire final, swimming is lost to the world of sports that have given in and accepted that without drugs you can't win.

And on that note, here's what's in store:


50m freestyle

World record: 21.28 - Eamon Sullivan (AUS), Sydney, 28.3.08
2004 Olympic champion: Gary Hall Jr (USA) 21.93
2007 World champion: Ben Wildman-Tobriner (USA) 21.88

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Ben Wildman-Tobriner (US); Cullen Jones (US); Stefan Nystrand (SWE)
2 Breakers: Alain Bernard (FRA); Cesar Cielo (BRA)
2 Bubbling Under: Bartosz Kizierowski (POL); Eamon Sullivan (AUS)
1 On The Edge: Javier Noriega (ESP)
Don't forget: Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED); Gary Hall Jr (USA); Roland Schoeman (RSA)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
21.64 Popov (RUS) 2000
21.69 Schoeman (RSA) 2002
21.76 Hall (USA) 2000
21.76 Bernard (FRA) 2007
21.80 Ervin (USA) 2000
21.80 Wildman-Tobriner 2007
21.81 Jager (USA) 1990
21.82 Jones (USA) 2007
21.84 Cielo (BRA) 2007
21.85 Biondi (USA) 1990
New impact on all-time top 10: Bernard; Wildman-Tobriner; Jones; Cielo

The picture in August 2008:

Popov slipped from 1st to 6th on the all-time list in a matter of months; Hall Jr finished 4th at US trials and will not defend his crown; the small fortune pumped into Cullen Jones by Nike came to nothing as far as solo Olympic swims go when the sprinter finished third at trials in the 50m and 100m - but the good the Jones campaign has done and the encouragement of youth in the US and beyond has been worth every last cent.
The World Top 10, 2008:
21.28 Sullivan (AUS) - 2007, 22.05
21.38 Leveaux (FRA) - 2007, 22.80
21.47 Weber-Gale (USA) - 2007, 22.52
21.50 Bernard (FRA) - 2007, 21.76
21.53 Bousquet (FRA) - 2007, 22.31
21.59 Jones (USA) - 2007, 21.82
21.65 Wildman-Tobriner (USA) - 2007, 21.80
21.75 Cielo (BRA) - 2007, 21.84
21.86 El-Masri (GER)- 2007, 22.61
21.89 Hall (USA) - 2007, 22.52

Danger just outside the top 10: at 21.90, Schoeman (RSA) silver behind Hall in 2004, remains a potential medallist, as does 2004 silver medallist Duje Draganja (CRO), whose world short-course record blew the opposition away at the world s/c championships in April.

The Battle: Eamon Sullivan sizzled from a bubbler to a breaker of all that had gone before with an LZR-clad world record of 21.28. Among the most difficult of races to call, the 50m free this year is doubly difficult. Sullivan, injury woes galore behind him, and two of the French musketeers have the edge on the two Americans. Wildman-Tobriner has proved he can win when it counts. He has also proven himself to have a tough constitution: much to the surprise, and delight, of his coaches, he underwent surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in December and essentially had his training disrupted for over three months. Just how much of an impact that rapid drive to recover in time to make it through the toughest qualification process in the world remains to be seen. I wouldn't bet against the world champ. Nor Bernard, a beefy barrier to all-comers and a man who appears to have shaken off his previous inability to perform when it counted most. Technique is playing a part in the new pace of sprinting, as is muscle mass and the suit. Confidence in qualifying rounds will count for much on the days of prelims, semis and final. The morning semis will be critical to weeding out those who can get up and fight and those who can't. In an age of super-speed and speedy suits, there's no place for Bousquet and Jones, with times of 21.53 and 21.59, efforts that would have won every Olympic and world crown in history by a comfortable margin.

Most consistent: Bernard - six times between 21.50 and 21.83.

History: Of the six finals held (1904 was the last before 1988), the USA has won three, Alexander Popov (RUS) two, and Zoltan Halmay (HUN) the Inaugural crown. Gary Hall Jnr shared the crown in 2000 with teammate Anthony Ervin in a final that marked the first joint gold awarded for men in Olympic swimming history. Popov was the first to retain the title, while Hall, champion once more in 2004, finished 4th at US trials and swam into history.

Fastest: 21.91, Popov, 1992
World Record wins: Matt Biondi (USA) 22.14, 1988
Biggest margin: Biondi's 0.22sec win over teammate Tom Jager in the loosest final, one split by 1.01sec
Closest shave: Hall and Erivin's tie in 21.98, which kept Pieter van den Hoogenband from winning three gold medals b y just 0.05sec. Hall then won again in 2004, in 21.93, by 0.1sec over Duje Draganja (CRO) in the tightest final, one split by 0.44sec.
Most controversial: In 1904, Zoltan Halmay beat J Scott Leary by a clear margin but the US judge called a tie. A fight broke out and lasted a while. When the dust had settled, a re-race saw Halmay beat Leary 28.0 to 28.6.



WR: 47.50 - Alain Bernard (FRA), Eindhoven, Netherlands, 22.3.08
2004 Olympic champion: Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) 48.17
2007 World champion: Filippo Magnini (ITA), Brent Hayden (CAN) =48.43

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Brent Hayden (CAN); Filippo Magnini (ITA); Eamon Sullivan (AUS)

2 Breakers: Nystrand; Bernard
2 Bubbling Under: Fabien Gilot (FRA); Cielo
1 On The Edge: Simon Burnett (GBR)
Don't forget: Hoogie; Schoeman; Michael Phelps (USA), if he wants it
All-time top 10, end 2007:
47.84 Van den Hoogenband (NED) 2000
47.91 Nystrand (SWE) 2007
48.12 Bernard (FRA) 2007
48.12 Magnini (ITA) 2005
48.17 Lezak (USA) 2004
48.17 Schoeman (RSA) 2004
48.18 Klim (AUS) 2000
48.21 Popov (RUS) 1994
48.33 Ervin (USA) 2001
48.34 Neethling (RSA) 2005
New impact on all-time top 10: Bernard; Wildman-Tobriner; Jones; Cielo

The picture in August 2008:

Schoeman didn't make it past RSA trials; Phelps opted out of the solo but posted a blistering heats time to book his relay berth; Burnett continued to lose form and did not make the grade at GBR trials. Not much more than a year ago, Hoogie sat supreme as the only man below 48sec. Then Nystrand joined him and now there are seven men under the mark. This generation is getting out like Schoeman and coming back faster than Popov and Thorpe. Extraordinary. The suit is significant - and Hayden has yet to don one when ready to race at best.
The World Top 10, 2008:
47.50 Bernard (FRA) - 2007, 48.12
47.52 Sullivan (AUS) - 2007, 48.47
47.58 Lezak (USA) - 2007, 48.51
47.78 Weber-Gale (USA) - 2007, 49.04
47.92 Phelps (USA) - 2007, 48.42
48.02 Gilot (FRA) - 2007, 48.49
48.26 Lagunov (RUS) - 2007, 48.78
48.29 Brunelli (USA) - 2007, 49.04
48.34 Cielo (BRA) - 2007, 48.51
48.35 Jones (USA) - 2008, 49.59

Danger just outside the top 10: Magnini, Matthew Targett (AUS), Hoogie, Nystrand.

The Battle: Bernard added insult to injury when he took out Pieter van den Hoogenband's world record in the Dutchman's home pool in Eindhoven, in the semis on the way to lifting the European crown a day later in another world record. The race went without Hoogie, who withdrew through illness. The Dutchman's 47.84 had stood on the books since Sydney 2000 and survived Hoogie's second 100m Olympic victory, in Athens 2004. In Beijing, Van den Hoogenband will attempt to become the first man ever to win the same swimming crown at three Games. The suit issue has added spice to the race, with world champ Filippo Magnini leaving his sponsor just two weeks out from the Games in order to wear a suit that he believes can help him to make a big leap and lift the crown. Sullivan is just 0.02sec away from Bernard, while Jason Lezak, 32, has found the secret that Hoogie will hope to have found by the time he steps up to his blocks: at 47.58, the American is now more than a half a second faster than he ever was in his 20s and faster than Popov ever was. We live in strange times.

Most consistent: Bernard - seven times between 47.50 and 48.20.

History: Of the 25 finals contested since 1896, the USA has won 13, the last of which was Matti Biondi's 1988 victory. Hungary and Australia tie on three titles each. The USA has had two clean sweeps, (1920, 24) and Australia one (1956) in the days when three per nation were allowed. The title has been retained five times: Daniels (06, 08); Kahanamoku (12,20); Weissmuller (24, 28); Popov (92, 96, along with wins over 50m at both Games) and Van den Hoogengand (2000, 04). The only two men to medal at three Games over a nine-year period are Kahanamoku and Popov. When Popov took silver behind Van den Hoogenband he took his Olympic tally to four gold and five silvers). Thorpe (AUS) is the only man to have ever won medals over 100, 200 and 400m, his 48.54 for bronze in Athens 2004 faster than Popov ever swam at an Olympic Games (there was no 200m in Weissmuller's day, when he won 100 and 400m titles in 1924).

Fastest: 48.17 (final), 47.84, semi: Van den Hoogenband, 2000
World Record wins: Daniels, 1908; Kahanamoku, 1920; Wenden (AUS), 1968; Spitz, 1972; Montgomery, 1976.
Biggest margin: Montgomery's historic 49.99 in 1976 left him 0.82sec ahead for a modern-era record; Weissmuller is king, winning by 2.4sec in 1924.
Closest shave: Apart from the controversy below, Charles Scholes (USA) and Hiroshi Suzuki (JPN) both clocked 57.4 in 1952 but Scholes got the judge's decision.
Most controversial: In 1960, John Devitt (AUS) and Lance Larson (USA) each set (and kept) an Olympic record of 55.2. The clock favoured Larson (55.0, 55.1, 55.1, to 55.2, 55.2, 55.2). Three judges voted for each swimmer. An unofficial manual electronic readout system put Larson ahead, 55.10 to 55.16. German Hans Runstromer, the chief judge who had no official say in the matter, instructed Larson's time to be registered as 55.2 and ordered that gold go to Devitt. Four years of protests fell on deaf ears. Imagine the lawsuit in 2008!

The statistics used in our previews are the work of Nick Thierry, the SwimNews founder whose work on world rankings for the past 30 years has provided an invaluable resource for the sport and the media who cover it