Beijing Form Guide: Women's Breaststroke
Craig Lord
Countdown to 08/08/08: SwimNews continues 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: Women's Breaststroke

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.

Women's Breaststroke


If there is one stroke where the impact of the bodysuit has been perceived to be less significant, it is breaststroke, though two things to note: reigning double Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima's bounce into the realms of 2:07 over 200m breaststroke, accompanied by a successful campaign to have Japan crop its adherence to specific brands; and adidas's claim to have made what amounts to a stroke specific suit, the powerband element of its 2008 suit altered specifically with breaststroke specialists in mind. Here's a reminder of the world records broken at the helm of a sports-wide surge in standards since February 2008. Beijing may provide a much clearer picture of where suit technology has truly led breaststroke, though the dam of pressure behind the dominant Leisel Jones among women had started to build before the bodysuit blurring began.

Jones has not yet got back to her 2006 world records but has come close. The wolves are still up in the woods but they are gathering and hungry to make the drop necessary to compete with the Australian's supremacy. Here's a snapshot of the numbers that reflect progress on breaststroke:

100m: 3/10 all-time performers from 2008; 9/30 entries from 2008
200m: 1/10 all-time performers from 2008; 10/30 entries from 2008

The burning question: can Lethal Leisel live up to her names and well-earned reputation as invincible queen of the breaststroke throne and lay to rest the disappointments of the past: silver in 2000 and bronze in 2004.

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




World Record: 1:05.09 - Leisel Jones (AUS), Melbourne, 20.3.06 Olympic champion: Luo Xuejuan (CHN) 1:06.64 World champion: Jones 1:05.72

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Leisel Jones (AUS); Tara Kirk (USA); Anna Khlistunova (UKR)
2 Breakers: Rebecca Soni (USA); Annamay Pierse (CAN)
2 Bubbling Under: Megan Jendrick (nee Quann, USA); Jessica Hardy (USA)
1 On The Edge: Kirsty Balfour (GBR)
Don't forget: Tarnee White (AUS); Kate Haywood (GBR); Elena Bogomazova (RUS)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
1:05.09 Jones, Leisel (AUS) 2006
1:06.20 Hardy, Jessica (USA)* 2005
1:06.34 Kirk, Tara (USA) 2007
1:06.52 Heyns, Penelope (RSA) 1999
1:06.64 Luo, Xuejuan (CHN) 2004
1:06.94 Soni, Rebecca (USA) 2007
1:07.03 Edmistone, Jade (AUS) 2006
1:07.05 Quann/Jendrick, Megan (USA) 2000
1:07.15 Hanson, Brooke (AUS) 2004
1:07.20 Stitts-Winfield, Staciana (USA)
*- Hardy tested positive for clenbuterol at US Olympic trials, will not race in Beijing and awaits an appeal hearing at which she aims to have a two-year suspension reduced.
New impact on all-time top 10: Kirk; Soni

The picture in August 2008:

Jones got close to her world records on tour in Europe in June and is said to be ready to go beyond her best. She is almost a second up on teammate Tarnee White, but then White has leapt more than 2sec ahead of her 2007 form this year. Hardy is out after testing positive (see above) and it is hard to see any other challenger who is ready to make the drop to a low 1:05.
The World Top 10, 2008:
1:05.34 Jones, Leisel AUS 2007 1:05.72
1:06.04 White, Tarnee AUS 2007 1:08.34
1:06.39 Hardy, Jessica USA 2007 1:07.38
1:06.66 Kirk, Tara USA 2007 1:06.34
1:06.87 Soni, Rebecca USA 2007 1:06.94
1:07.06 Quann/Jendrick, Megan USA 2007 1:07.19
1:07.10 Edmistone, Jade AUS 2007 1:08.24
1:07.10 Poewe, Sarah GER 2007 1:09.60
1:07.35 Efimova, Yulia RUS 2007 1:09.28
1:07.56 Haywood, Kate GBR 2007 1:08.19
Danger just outside the top 10: to Jones, probably none but Britain's Kate Haywood and Japan's Tamura Tanaka lead those who will be pressing for a place in the final and an outside shot at the podium.


The Battle: Jones v Jones. Olympic gold has eluded Jones, whose early career was marked by nervous losses in big finals. No longer. Silver medallist in 2000 and bronze in 2004, Jones has dominated the 100m and 200m breaststroke events for the past three seasons and is more than a second faster than anyone else has ever swum in the 100m.World champion in 2005 and 2007, and Commonwealth champion in between, Jones's world records are bordering on the Beamonesque. Her closet rival is teammate Tarnee White, the most improved of the current world top 10, from 1:08.34 to 1:06.04 in the past year. The race will go without former medal hope Jessica Hardy, the former world record holder who tested positive for clenbuterol at US Olympic trials in Omaha in July. Leading the US charge is 2000 Olympic champion, Meghan Jendrick (nee Quann).

Most consistent: Jones, with nine of the best 10 times ever swum.

History: There has been no dominant nation in this event, nor has the title ever been retained. The USA and the GDR have two gold medals apiece since 1968, with six other nations having won a gold each. Australia has won six medals in the 10 finals, with the USA and URS on five each. Djurdjica Bjedov, the inaugural champion in 1928, remains the only Yugoslavian to have won a gold medal in the pool and, borders having shifted as they have, is likely to remain so. Croatia is now her country. Prozumenshikova (1968, 1972) and Heyns (1996, 2000) are the only two women to have reached the podium at two Games. The winning time has not improved significantly since Tania Dangalakova (Bogomilova) became Bulgaria's first Olympic swim champion in 1988 in an Olympic record of 1:07.95. The 1:07.91 world record of Silke Hoerner (GDR) from 1987 was the longest to survive in the event, and was broken by Sam Riley (AUS) in 1994. Among swimmers robbed of their rightful place on the podium during those days were Alison Higson (CAN) and Margaret Kelly (GBR). If Petra van Staveren (NED) produced the first sub 1:10 win in 1984, and Dangalakova led the first sub 1:10 podium in 1988, then Heyns led the first sub-1:10 final in 1996.

Fastest: 1:06.64, Luo Xuejuan (CHN) 2004
World Record wins: Catherine Carr (USA), 1972.
Biggest margin:Hannelore Anke (GDR) walloped her rivals with a 1:11.16 win in 1976. 1.88sec ahead of Lyubov Rusanova (URS) at the first games to witness the might of what turned out to be a steroid-fuelled East German team.
Closest shave: Djurdica Bjedov (YUG) kept Galina Prozumenshikova (URS) at bay by 0.1sec in 1968. In days when electronic timing ruled, Elena Rudovskaia (BLR) beat Anita Nall (USA) by 0.17sec in 1992.
Most controversial: In 1976, 4th place went to Carola Nitschke (GDR). She was off colour: before the Games she set a world record of 1:11.93. Since 13 years of age, she had been fed steroids under State Plan 14:25. In 1998, she became the first doping victim of the GDR to ask international federations to take back any prizes she had won (European relay gold among them) and remove her name from the record books. Her request fell on ears deafened by the sound of the rolling snowball they feared.



World Record: 2:20.54 - Leisel Jones (AUS), Melbourne, 1.2.06
Olympic champion: Amanda Beard (USA) 2:23.37
World champion: Jones 2:21.84

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Jones; Balfour; Jendrick
2 Breakers: Soni; Yulia Efimova (RUS)
2 Bubbling Under: Suzaan van Biljon (RSA); Caitlin Leverenz (USA)
1 On The Edge: Birte Steven (GER)
Don't forget: Nanaka Tamura (JPN; Megumi Taneda (JPN)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
2:20.54 Jones (AUS) 2006
2:22.44 Beard (USA) 2004
2:22.99 Qi (CHN) 2001
2:23.36 Soni (USA) 2007
2:23.64 Heyns (RSA) 1999
2:23.85 Taneda (JPN) 2007
2:24.03 Kovacs (HUN) 2000
2:24.04 Balfour (GBR) 2006
2:24.12 Tanaka (JPN) 2000
2:24.41 Luo (CHN) 2002
New impact on all-time top 10: Soni; Taneda

The picture in August 2008:

The time worth silver in 2007 at Melbourne will now struggle to make the final. Jones remains 2sec ahead of her nearest rival and it is hard to see anyone getting to her, provided that she holds her nerve and form. Soni, heading in the right direction, is the biggest danger, but watch too for Efimova, a teenager capable of an amazing turn of speed at critical moments.
The World Top 10, 2008:
2:20.58 Jones, Leisel AUS 2007 2:21.45
2:22.60 Soni, Rebecca USA 2007 2:23.36
2:23.96 Taneda, Megumi JPN 2007 2:23.85
2:24.09 Efimova, Yulia RUS 2007 2:25.23
2:24.20 Jukic, Mirna AUT 2007 2:25.46
2:24.65 Pierse, Annamay CAN 2007 2:25.22
2:24.81 Foster, Sally AUS 2007 2:27.75
2:25.07 Jung, Seul-Ki KOR 2007 2:24.67
2:25.13 Beard, Amanda USA 2007 2:28.68
2:25.19 Detenyuk, Olga RUS 2007

Danger just outside the top 10: to Jones, none, but vying for places in the final and thus a podium shot are a whole shoal of women - 2008 world top 10 has Nos 11 to 20 all within a second of 2:25.2.

The Battle: Jones, silver medallist at the 2004 Games, should move up to gold here too, having swum more than two seconds faster than anyone else this year. The Australian's 2:20.58 - 0.04 seconds shy of her world mark - is followed by the 2:22.60 of American Rebecca Soni, with Japan's Megumi Taneda more than a second further back. Reigning Olympic champion Amanda Beard, silver medallist in the 100 and 200 breaststroke at 14 at the 1996 Atlanta Games and 200 bronze medallist in 2000, aims for another podium appearance at her fourth Olympics.

Most consistent: Jones - with nine of the top 10 best times ever, the Australian has done enough to prove that she has taken a giant leap ahead of the woman who beat her for gold in 2004, Amanda Beard, whose former world record is now 9th best performance ever.

History: A rare event where the USA does not come out on top on gold count, a situation that will not change if Jones has her day (or four) in Beijing. The upper hand is held by the Soviet Union. Between 1964 and 1980, Soviet women won 10 of the 18 Olympic medals on offer over 200m breaststroke. Galina Prozumenshikova (later Stepanova) got the ball rolling, winning in 1964 and taking bronze in 1968 and 1972. Winner of silver medals in the 100m in 1968 and 1972, she was the first breaststroke specialist to reach the podium at three Games and remains the only one to have won five Olympic medals. Then, in 1976, Marina Koshevaia led teammates Marina Yurchenya and Lyubov Rusanova home for a Montreal 1976 sweep in a world record of 2:33.35; and Lithuanian Lina Kachushite (2:29.54, Olympic record) led Svetlana Varganova and Yulia Bogdanova home in a 1980 home Games sweep. The boycott of 1984 killed a tradition: no Russian (or anyone from other former Soviet states) has made the Olympic 200m breaststroke podium in the intervening years. Prozumenshikova and Amanda Beard (USA) are the only two women to have won breaststroke medals at three Games, and Beard the only one to have done so in the same event, 200m: 1996, silver, 2000, bronze, 2004, gold.

Fastest: 2:23.37, Amanda Beard (USA), 2004.
World Record wins: Anita Lonsbrough (GBR), 1960; Marina Koshevaia (URS), 1976; Silke Hoerner (GDR), 1988.
Biggest margin: 2.7sec separated the two Evas of Hungary, Szkeley and Novak, in 1952, when they swam with butterfly arms; and 2.73 split Koshevaia and teammate Marina Yurchenya (URS) in 1976.
Closest shave: Lina Kachushite and Svetlana Varganova (both URS) were 0.07sec apart in 1980.
Most controversial: Nothing beats beating the world for the best part of 20 years on the back of a doping regime.