Olympic Swimming 2012: Top Contenders, Event by Event World Records & More
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Swimming seemingly always finds its way to the center of attention at the Summer Games, and the 2012 Olympics provide another chapter in the sports' rich history. Loaded with legendary performers, prodigious newcomers and scintillating storylines, the level of competition in London is at an all-time high.
The lanes are loaded with talent, on both the men's and women's side. The U.S. Olympic swimming program is stronger than ever, and an international field filled with elite athletes makes every event a must-see spectacle.
The globe's greatest swimmers are chasing more than each other at the Summer Games. They're feverishly pursuing medals, Olympic records, world records and ultimately an everlasting legacy.
With so much at stake in the Olympic swimming spectrum, let's shine some light on London's most compelling competitors and events.
Michael Phelps, U.S.
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There were rumblings about Phelps being less invested in his craft since winning an eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, but he effectively dispelled doubters with a powerhouse performance at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, held June 25-July 2 in Omaha, Neb. The 27-year-old Baltimore native needs to win three medals in London in order to become the most decorated Olympian in history.
Phelps has said that his fourth Olympics appearance will be his last, so it's captivating to see how he punctuates a legendary career. He is seeking his third consecutive gold-medal finishes in four individual events (100- and 200-meter butterfly; 200- and 400-meter individual medley).
Stephanie Rice, Australia
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The 24-year-old was absolutely exceptional at the 2008 Beijing Games. Rice claimed three gold medals, establishing world-record times in each triumph.
She appears to be on track for another memorable Olympic performance, spearheading a talented group of Aussie swimmers.
Although Rice settled for third in the 400-meter individual medley at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, China, she remains the runaway favorite in a 200 IM field that includes fellow Australian medal hopeful Alicia Coutts.
Neck and shoulder injuries remains a slight concern, but Rice remains among the Olympic elite.
James Magnussen, Australia
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The reigning 100-meter freestyle World Champion is known as The Missile. His recent performance have lived up to that nickname and he is an emerging sprint star.
The 21-year-old will compete in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, and the 4×100-meter freestyle and medley relay in London. He'll have a chance to dominate in the 100M, where he is expected to challenge Cesar Cielo's world-record time of 46.91 seconds while chasing gold.
A first-place finish in the event would be plenty for Magnussen, according to an interview with the Associated Press.
"I think the times I set at trials would point to it (a world record) definitely being a possibility," Magnussen said. "But to be completely honest with you I've come here to win gold, not break world records. At this stage, I think a world record would just be a bonus."
Missy Franklin, U.S.
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Missy Franklin seems destined to be crowned the new queen of American swimming.
After a series of successful swims at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb., the 17-year-old should emerge as an Olympic star in London. Franklin will compete in the 100 and 200 freestyles, along with the 100 and 200 backstroke races and three team relays.
"Missy the Missile" earned five medals, including three gold, at the 2011 FINA World Championships.
The Colorado resident's resume speaks for itself and judging by her comments from a recent interview on the Today Show, she has additional motivation to raise the spirits of her home state.
Kosuke Kitajima, Japan
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The two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in the 100 and 200 breaststroke aims for a three-peat in London. Kitajima understands the competition he faces at the Summer Games after sitting in the audience during U.S. Olympic Team Trials
The 29-year-old is the only swimmer to win both breaststroke events at multiple Olympics. If he can accomplish that feat yet again, he'll have to power past an elite group of competitors that includes Japanese teammate Tateishi Ryo.
Rebecca Soni, U.S.
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The New Jersey native won three medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and is considered the world's premier breaststroke swimmer.
Soni, 25, surprisingly did not win the 100 breaststroke competition at the U.S. team trials, edged by Olympic teammate Breeja Larson. Her Beijing performance in the 200 set a world record at the time.
Now unequivocally the favorite in her events, Soni must shoulder heightened expectations.
"It was easier being the unknown," Soni told USA Today. "You don't have the pressure and don't have people coming up to you asking, 'Are you going to win the gold?' "
Cesar Cielo, Brazil
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The defending 50-meter freestyle Olympic gold medalist squares off with fellow star sprinter James Magnussen in two events. The two will meet in the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Cielo, an NCAA star during his three-year career at Auburn, owns world records in the 50 and 100. Aside from Magnussen, he is also pushed by American Cullen Jones.
"In the Olympics everything goes back to square one," Cielo told Reuters. "The world champion or the world record holder or the ninth last year are fighting for the same medal and you have got to go there like it was the first time."
Rebecca Adlington, Great Britain
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Great Britain's Golden Girl is a favorite in 400 and 800 freestyle competition. Adlington won gold in both events at the 2008 Olympics, establishing a new world record in the 800.
The 23 year old described her outlook for London in a recent interview with the BBC. Success in Beijing has thrust her into the spotlight in front of a passionate home crowd.
"I was using Beijing as a stepping stone to gain experience for London and then it turned into something completely different that I never expected, and that I still can't believe now," she told Nick Hope. "But the same people don't win all the time in sport: nobody expected me to go to Beijing and get two gold medals and there's going to be someone else like that coming through."
Ryan Lochte, U.S.
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The two-time defending FINA Male Swimmer of the Year is peaking at the right time. Lochte, 27, was the 2011 World Champion in 200 freestyle, 200 backstroke, 200 individual medley (setting a world record in the process) and 400 IM.
It seems his fame is catching up with his incredible recent performances. The former Florida Gator standout is on the cover of TIME Magazine's Olympic preview .
This is Lochte's third Olympic appearance and he plans to return in 2016. He collected six medals in his first to Olympics, including three gold.
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Can Missy Franklin live up to the hype?
Since being named the 2011 FINA Female Swimmer of the Year, the frenzy surrounding Franklin's abilities has rapidly grown. Her dominant performance at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials made her one the most publicized members of Team USA and her Summer Games debut should be fun to watch.
She has become a media darling leading up to the Olympics so Americans have become more familiar with the 17-year-old prodigy.
Of course, with great promise comes the risk of a major letdown. Franklin wouldn't be the first heralded Olympic newcomer to fall flat if she does in fact struggle in London.
Michael Phelps versus Ryan Lochte
The rivalry between America's star swimmers seemed to reach a boiling point at U.S. trials, as they met in three event finals (Phelps owned a 2-1 advantage). Lochte topped Phelps in two showdowns at the 2011 World Championships and they race against each other twice in London.
The 200 and 400 IMs are among the most anticipated events at the 2012 Olympics. That's when the rivalry is set to be rekindled.
Lochte hasn't exactly been tight-lipped about his drive to dethrone Phelps from the top of the Olympic Swimming scene.
"He's human. He's not a fish or anything like that,'' Lochte told USA Today.
American swimming legend Dara Torres told the Associated Press that it's a matchup worth watching closely.
"Obviously, people like showdowns, and there is a showdown between Phelps and Lochte, and it's going to be really fun to watch because they are both just fiercely competitive. There's finally someone at Michael's feet giving him a run for his money. Michael wants to win, and Ryan doesn't want to lose, either."
Can Rebecca Adlington become London's hero?
Great Britain's greatest swimmer would send London into party mode with gold medals in the 400 and 800 freestyles. On the other hand, falling short of the award podium would be a major letdown for the Olympics' host city.
After winning two gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, she is Britain's version of Michael Phelps - a household name who has made the sport relevant to more people than ever in the country. The pressure of duplicating that performance in front of her nation's faithful will be enormous.
"It is the hardest thing -- the assumption that a gold medal is won before it has been swum," former Australian Olympic swimming star Ian Thorpe said about Adlington's challenge to appease her hopeful supporters.
World Records: Men's Swimming
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50 meter freestyle— 20.91—Cesar Cielo, Brazil, 2009
100 meter freestyle—46.91—Cesar Cielo, 2009
200 meter freestyle—1:42.00—Paul Biedermann, Germany, 2009
400 meter freestyle—3:40.07—Paul Biedermann, 2009
1,500 meter freestyle—14:34.14—Sun Yang, China, 2011
100 meter backstroke—51.94—Aaron Peirsol, U.S., 2009
200 meter backstroke—1:51.92—Aaron Peirsol, 2009
100 meter breaststroke—58.58—Brenton Rickard, Australia, 2009
200M breaststroke—2:07.31—Christian Sprenger, Australia, 2009
100 meter butterfly—49.82—Michael Phelps,U.S., 2009
200 meter butterfly—1:51.51—Michael Phelps, 2009
200 meter individual medley—1:54.00—Ryan Lochte, U.S., 2011
400 meter individual medley—4:03.84 - Michael Phelps, 2008
4x100 meter freestyle relay—3:08.24—Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak,U.S., 2008
4x200 meter freestyle relay—6:58.55— Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and David Walters, U.S., 2009
4x100 meter medley relay—3:27.28—Aaron Peirsol, Eric Shanteau, Michael Phelps and David Walters, U.S., 2009
World Records: Women's Swimming
Britta Steffen owns two world records.
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50 meter freestyle—23.73—Britta Steffen, Germany, 2009
100 meter freestyle—52.07—Britta Steffan, 2009
200 meter freestyle—1:52.98—Fredrica Pellegrini, Italy, 2009
400 meter freestyle—3:59.15—Federica Pellegrini, 2009
800 meter freestyle—8:14.10—Rebecca Adlington, Great Britain, 2008 Beijing
100 meter backstroke—58.12—Gemma Spofforth, Great Britain, 2009
200 meter backstroke——2:04.81—Kristy Coventry, Zimbabwe, 2009
100 meter breaststroke—1:04.45—Jessica Hardy, U.S., 2009
200 meter breaststroke—2:20.12—Annamay Pierse, Canada, 2009
100 meter butterfly—56.06—Sarah Sjöström, Sweden, 2009
200 meter butterfly—2:01.81—Liu Zige, China, 2009
200 meter individual medley—2:06.15—Ariana Kukors, U.S., 2009
400 meter individual medley—4:29.45—Stephanie Rice, Australia, 2008
4×100 meter freestyle relay—3:31.72—Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Femke Heemskerk and Marleen Veldhuis, Netherlands, 2009
4×200 meter freestyle relay—7:42.08—Yang Yu, Liu Jing, Zhu Qianwei and Pang Jiaying, China, 2009
4×100 meter medley relay—3:52.19—Zhao Jing, Chen Huijia, Jiao Liuyang and Li Zhesi, China, 2009