The 200m Breaststroke has undoubtedly the strongest depth in the mens Olympic program. The pool of talent runs deep. Akahiro Yamaguchis 2.07.01 technical masterclass remains the World Record standard, but for how much longer? There is a host of international talent closing in on this mark, suggesting there could be a close finish in Rio with a number of swimmers going under 2.08.
Perhaps the favourite for the Olympic title and leader of the World Record chasing pack is the German, Marco Koch, reigning European and World Champion. Marco, a perfect blend of power and poise, has been incredibly consistent in recent seasons. An unmatched thirteen ‘in-season’ swims under 2.09 in the past 3 years brings his total sub 2.09 efforts to 20.
The precursor to such consistency, perhaps, is his medley foundation. Marco has competed internationally in the long medley events, with a world class personal best time of 4.01.87 in the short course 400 medley. This displays an aerobic engine and technical proficiency that we are not akin to seeing in breaststroke swimmers.
A student of Dirk Lange, and team mate of the 100m Olympic Champion Cameron Van Der Burgh, the focus for Marco has been to develop ‘front-end’ speed, meaning to swim as fast, yet as efficient as possible through the opening 100/150m. We have seen Marco under World Record pace many times at the 150m mark, but as yet unable to hold this blistering pace.
Almost 25% of the 200m breaststroke event is underwater. The pullout phase is one which Koch dominates, seemingly able to utilise his power and alignment more efficiently than his competition.
In previewing the looming European Championships Final, who will emerge to challenge the great German? Ross Murdoch, a member of the Olbrecht training philosophy in the Stirling National Training Centre, swam an interesting semi-final in London last night. With splits of 31/34/32 after the opening 50m, Murdoch displayed an expertly tuned physiological profile and suggests another gear may be found in time for the final. The ability to change stroke rates and swimming pace within a race is extremely difficult and very few swimmers are able to do this. The Olbrecht training model is spreading far and wide within the swimming community and is centred around individual and highly specific training loads, a far cry from the historical world swimming approach in high volume aerobic endurance based training.
Despite this, Murdoch is a long way from his summer of form in 2014 and has failed to gain GB qualification in this event for the past two summers.
Matti Mattsson, the tall Finn, and surprise Bronze medalist at the World Championships in Barcelona 2013, looks cumbersome at times with his low Liesel Jones esque technique, but has the tools to mount a medal winning challenge. He looked to fatigue in the closing stages of his semi final swim last night. Historically, breaststroke events have not seen the 6’5″ frames of Mattsson but in recent years, we have watched Kevin Cordes (USA) & Damir Dugonjic (SLO) challenge for international with similarly imposing frames.
With Daniel Gyurtas omission from the European Championships to focus fully on Rio preparations, it seems like the race will be won in the centre lanes, between Koch and Murdoch.
SwimWords prediction : Gold – Koch (GER) Silver – Murdoch (GBR) Bronze – Mattsson (FIN)