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Top 5 Swimming Rivalries – Daniel

March 26, 2012

The London Olympics are just around the corner, and excitement is building up from all around the globe. It’s been four years now since Beijing 2008. Four years since Usain “Lighting” Bolt claimed 3 Olympic golds and title of fastest man ever, and four years since Michael Phelps (dubbed “The Baltimore Bullet”) won his electrifying 8 gold medals in one Olympics. Within those four years had to be some of the most dramatic events the swimming world has faced.

As a swimmer myself, I like to keep myself up to date on said dramatic events and other goings-on in the international swimming scene. With the Aussies’ Olympic trials just wrapping up and Canada’s due to start in but a few days, I present to you what I believe are the top 5 swimming rivalries ever.

Number 1: Ian Thorpe vs. Pieter Van den Hoogenband (2000-2006)

Like in any sport, there can be only one number one, and this list of rivalries is no different. This duo came out on top because of all the different elements that made it up, including the huge amount support that both these athletes provided to each other. World records fell to the might of these two powerhouses, both of whom came from nations other than the usually-dominant America. As well, I think swimming was much more diverse back then (some would say a bit too diverse). Men had the option wearing of briefs, jammers, legskins, bodyskins or bodyskins with sleeves, all of which probably had different advantages over each other from a multitude of manufacturers. Thorpe was always seen with an Adidas compression bodyskin (with sleeves), while Hoogie often sported a Nike legskin. Nowadays, swimmers are basically seen with only either Arena or Speedo suits with the occasional TYR, all jammers in compliance with FINA’s new suit regulations.

Number 2: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte (2004-Present)

So here we have the two American powerhouses in swimming, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps himself. In the beginning, Phelps was always finishing ahead of Lochte. Now it seems that the tables have finally turned for Lochte, going undefeated on an international stage to Phelps since Rome 2009 where their events overlapped and even breaking Phelps’ 200 IM world record from 2008 using an inferior suit. (Again, in compliance with FINA’s new suit regulations.) Keep an eye out for these two in London 2012.

Number 3: The entire 100m freestyle field (2011-Present)

This field simply has too many potential candidates for a gold medal this Olympics for me to select only two or three names. James Magnussen and James Roberts, both from Australia are the fastest two men to date in this era of swimming. Those two currently have stiff competition in the Olympics from Brazilian Caesar Cielo the current world record holder and Frenchmen Yannick Agnel and Fabien Gilot. Potential competition include Canadian Brent Hayden and any two of  the Americans (whose trials aren’t due to start until June) Jason Lezak, Nathan Adrian, Garrett Weber-Gale, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones and Ryan Lochte. Other notable mentions are Frenchmen Alain Bernard (reigning Olympic champion and former world record holder), Amaury Leveaux and Gregory Mallet; as well as Aussies Eamon Sullivan (former world record holder), Matt Targett and Matt Abood, all of whom weren’t able to qualify for this year’s Olympics due to there being a limit of two swimmers per country, per event.

Number 4: Rebecca Soni vs. Leisel Jones (2008-Present)

Swimming just isn’t complete without its girls, and I think this rivalry is one to behold. International competitions featuring Soni and Jones have always ended up with 1-2 finishes, with Soni gaining more of an upper hand in the 100 and Jones in the 200. Keep an eye out for these two this Olympics, as well as Canada’s Martha McCabe and Annamay Pierse. This year’s breaststroke events look to be very promising!

Number 5: America vs. Australia vs. France (2008-Present)

Traditionally, America has dominated the swimming field. In particular, their men’s 4×100 freestyle relay team has gone undefeated on an international stage until just a decade ago, where they were upset in the Sydney 2000 Olympics by none other than Australia, the US’s biggest rivals in swimming yet. Since then, the Americans have been defeated once more by both South Africa and the Netherlands in the following Athens 2004 Olympics and again by both Australia and France in the Shanghai 2011 World Championships. With France thirsty for revenge after losing the gold medal in 2008 by a fingernail touch and Australia with their most recent gold medal tucked under their belt, you can bet that this year’s 4×100 freestyle relay is going to be an intense one, for lack of a better adjective.

Other notable rivalries:

2008-Present: Ryan Lochte (America) vs. Park Tae Hwan (Korea) vs. Michael Phelps (America) vs. Paul Bidermann (Germany) vs. Yannick Agnel (France) – 200m freestyle

2008-Present: Kosuke Kitajima (Japan) vs. Brenton Rickard (Australia) vs. Brendan Hansen (America) – 100/200m breaststroke

2006-2011: Aaron Piersol (America) vs. Ryan Lochte (America) – 100/200m backstroke

2008-2009: Michael Phelps (America) vs. Milorad Cavic (Serbia) – 100m butterfly

2003-2008: Ian Crocker (America) vs. Michael Phelps (America) – 100m butterfly

What are you looking forward to most these Olympic games?

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