London Olympics: Men’s & Women’s Breaststroke Race Previews

By Jim Donahue

 

The slowest of the four Olympic strokes, the breaststroke is highly technical and therefore difficult to master. The arms must move in the same horizontal plane simultaneously; the hands propel forward from the breast (on, under or over the water) and are brought back on or under the water surface but not beyond the hip line, except during the first stroke after the start and turns; the elbows remain underwater except on the stroke before turns or the final touch; the kick is a simultaneous thrust of the legs called a “frog” or breaststroke kick. No flutter or dolphin kicking is allowed, except for one dolphin kick per pullout; a pullout is done at the start and after each turn.

Except for after the start and turns, some part of the swimmer’s head must come above water during each cycle of a stroke and kick. Touching the wall at turns or the finish must be done with both hands.

Men’s 100m: In Beijing, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima won the race in a world-record time of 58.91 seconds – almost 0.30 seconds faster than Norway’s Alexander Dale Oen. The victory marked the first time anyone had won the 100m breaststroke in back-to-back Olympics . Kitajima will be a leading contender in London. Joining Kitajima in the pool will be American Brendan Hansen, with whom he has a rivalry. The pair dueled in the 100m and 200m breaststroke throughout the 2000s before Hansen retired after Beijing. Now he’s back and hopes to stop Kitajima’s three-peat. Putting a damper on the event will be the recent death of Dale Oen, who collapsed after a training session in Arizona on April 30. He won the 100m breaststroke at the 2011 World Championships and would have been a sure contender in London.

Men’s 200m: In Beijing, Kosuke Kitajima became the most successful breaststroker in history by winning the event – he won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. He finished second in the event at the 2011 World Championships. In London, Kitajima will not face his old nemesis – American Brendan Hansen – in the 200m breaststroke because Hansen only qualified for the 100m breast. This will make Kitajima’s job much easier and he’s expected to contend for gold. However, 2011 world champion Daniel Gyurta could throw a wrench into his plans.

Women’s 100m: In Beijing, Australian Leisel Jones out-touched American Rebecca Soni by more than 1.5 seconds to win the gold medal. Jones then 2009 a break in 2009 but returned in 2010, when she took second in the 100m breaststroke at the Pan-Pacs. Another silver medal at the 2011 Worlds affirmed she was still a threat. Soni surprisingly lost the 100m breaststroke at Olympic Trials, but her second-place finish still guaranteed her a spot on the roster. She admitted to being nervous and touched the wall second to previously unknown swimmer Breeja Larson. Regardless, Soni is the favorite in London.

Women’s 200m: In Beijing, American Rebecca Soni blasted the field by almost two seconds and set the world record to win the gold medal. Soni faded down the stretch at the 2009 Worlds and did not medal, but at the 2011 Worlds she won by just under a second. Soni is the clear favorite to win in London and the question is not, “Will she win?” but, rather, “By how much will she win?” And, “Will she break the world record?” Soni admitted to feeling some pressure before her 100m breaststroke final at Olympic Trials, which came before the 200 and will be in London as well. She’ll be challenged by her training partner at USC, Russian Yuliya Efimova.

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