Many swimmers going for double and repeat performances

Swimming, one of the three disciplines which has figured in every Olympics since the modern Games took birth at Athens in 1896, has always been an American preserve with the rare exception or two. It could be no different at London.

Led by the iconic Michael Phelps, the Americans look set to surpass 500 all-time Olympic swimming medals — they currently have 489 — and the Baltimore swimmer is almost certain to better the record for most individual medals ever.

The 27-year-old, who surpassed Mark Spitz’s long-standing haul of seven, the most gold medals to be won at a single Games, with a record eight at Beijing, has 16 already including a record 14-gold. He is just two medals away from the record held by Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina since 1964. At London, Phelps will swim in seven events, including the three relays, after dropping the 200m freestyle following the U.S. trials.

Lochte threat

Phelps’s major threat would be team-mate Ryan Lochte, who can chase the former down to the wire in the 200m and 400m individual medleys to fuel his attempt of emerging as the breakout star of the London Games. Lochte is the favourite to top the charts in the 200m freestyle besides his other speciality, the 200m backstroke.

The other freestyle events, especially the 50m and 100m, could be a touch-and-go affair involving the rising Australian star, James Magnussen, and the Brazilian Cesar Cielo.

While the fight between the two could provide a few exciting moments, China could be heading for its first two gold medals in the men’s section through the sensational Sun Yang, who has swam without any challenge in the 400m and 1500m through the last two years or more.

No male swimmer has so far been able to win a same event thrice in the history of the Games. But in London, this record also looks set to be broken what with Japanese veteran Kosuke Kitajima going for a golden double in the two breaststroke events and Phelps attempting the two gold medals up for grabs in the butterfly events.

The Americans are well in position to dominate the 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley, while the Aussies should have a slight edge in the 4 x 100m freestyle.

In the women’s section, there could be three or four standout performers. But the one to be keenly watched would be 17-year-old Melissa ‘Missy’ Franklin (sharing a common nickname ‘The Missile’ with James Magnussen), who will figure in seven events and starts off as the odds-on favourite in the two backstroke events.

The Dutch star with a tongue-twister of a name, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, is likely to dominate the two freestyle sprints along with Francesca Halsall, the home-team favourite. Britain, even if denied in these two events, is certain to gain through the redoubtable Rebecca Adlington in the 400m and 800m freestyle, on her way to prove that her twin victories in Beijing were not a fluke.

American Rebecca Soni, going by current form, could also finish with a double in breaststroke, while compatriot Dana Vollmer and Natsumi Hoshi (Japan) look to be on line to share the top honours in the butterfly events.

And last but not the least, there could be still further excitement as Aussie golden girl Stephanie Rice gets involved in a tough battle for supremacy along with Elizabeth Beisel (United States) and Hannah Miley (Great Britain) in the 400m individual medley after expectedly retaining the 200m gold won four years ago.

An aspect that is likely to gain attraction is the 2009 FINA decision to allow swimming suits made of textile material instead of the buoyancy suits which were in vogue until the world championships of that year in Rome. An astonishing 43 world records were set then and since the new decision came into effect, only two world records have been eclipsed! So what would London offer? Indeed a few more, but not many.

Still there could be no shortage of the usual thrills and spills as the swimmers take the plunge.

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