The Men’s 200 metre freestyle is possibly the most talked about swimming events this year. Why? Because no one knows who’s going to win the coveted gold medal at the end of the season in Rio De Janeiro. The field is so open.
The 200 metre freestyle final in London tonight then is to follow suit, and it can only be described as the ‘entree to wet the appetite’ for the main event later in the summer. This 200metre freestyle event in London is a huge opportunity for the European stars to show the rest of the world, particularly the Americans and the Aussies, their intentions for the summer.
Why is the field so open? Simply because there are so many separate title holders at different stages of their careers coming in and out of form. Just in Europe we could have had the Olympic 2012 Champion, the 2015 World Champion, the defending European Champion, and the World Record Holder all lining up behind the blocks to compete against one another. Unfortunately only two of these contenders have entered the race this week, the other have decided not to show their hands so close to Rio Games. So let’s break down these European contenders further…
James Guy is the reigning world champion. Guy is the fastest man in the world this year from his excellent performance at the British Championships in Glasgow last month. He is still relatively young and rapidly improving year on year. He also has an uncanny ability to raise his game when he is thrown in with the ‘big boys’ or he is head to head with a rival. Coming in to this meet, with his current form, he is the slight favourite to touch the wall first and take the Gold. However, after his heavy training swim yesterday in the 400m free, he is certainly more beatable than usual.
Velimir Stepjanovic is the reigning European Champion. The Serbian, after a breakthrough year in 2014, was much quieter in 2015 and struggled at the World Championships. However, the Dubai based swimmer, seems to have put that behind him with some very quick times at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. The last time Stepjanovic raced Guy it was at the World Cup series in November and Guy pipped him by three one hundredths of a second! Both these boys love to race and Stepjanovic with his 100 metre pedigree will aim to go out fast. He did the same in the 400m final yesterday and faded near the end of the race. Will the shorter distance suit him more?
Paul Biedermann is the World Record Holder and current World No.2. The German holds this world record from 2009 before the shiny neoprene full body suits were banned, and although over the next 7 years he has shown snippets of his best form in the middle of seasons, he has struggled to replicate the same unbeatable ability he showed in 2009 with the aid of the super suits. Famous for his closing 50 metres, the tall German narrowly lost to Stepjanovic in Berlin two years ago, and has been getting faster and faster ever since. Disappointingly, with his Olympic trials only last week, Beidermann has decided against racing here, and continued training for the summer.
Frenchman, Yannick Agnel, is the reigning Olympic Champion but since then he has not shown anything like the same form. Struggling with different programmes and moving locations he has not settled and that has reflected in his swimming. Agnel came 2nd in the French Olympic Trials to Jeremy Stravius. Stravius is an incredibly talented but enigmatic swimmer, on his day you can see him match the great Lochte or Phelps on his underwater off the wall and bring home silverware, but on others he may not even make the final. Agnel, in order to not give away too much leading in to Rio, has also decided not to take on the 200m here and is only in London to represent his country in just the relay event this week. Stravius has decided not to travel at all.
To add to the intrigue of this event in London, Guy and Stepjanovic will be coming off different training due to when their trials have been relative to this competition and the Olympics. Stepjanovic can rest for these Europeans as he qualified for Rio at the beginning of the year, and then he can utilise a 9 or 10 week training cycle into the Olympics for further improvements. This means he should be shaved, sharp and fast here in London. Guy had his trials nearly a month ago now, and will therefore have to be back in fairly heavy work to stay fit, so his coach would have likely looked to run just one training cycle leading into the summer. This means Guy will be a little tired and flat for this competition depending on how his body reacts to the training. If he is still able to take the crown under fatigue however, it will give Guy a huge boost leading into Brazil.
What does this all mean? It’s anyone’s race here in London, but certainly some statements can be made for the summer.