Unlike the men's edition, the women's swimming competition in London won't be dominated by just a handful of names. Yes, 17-year-old Missy Franklin will be the first American female to swim seven events at a single Olympics, and true, the local press will be heavily focused on Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington, who will try to duplicate her gold-medal performances in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles from four years ago in Beijing. But several other women will get their turn in the spotlight.
[Sport Explainer: Swimming]
At the U.S. swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., Franklin somehow outperformed the hype generated by her eye-popping week at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai, when she won five medals, including three golds. In Omaha, she won both backstroke events and came in second in both the 100 and 200 freestyles, setting her up to swim in seven events, including all three relays, in London. Her poise, perspective and unrelenting cheerfulness may be even more impressive than her athletic talent.
Another American, Rebecca Soni, whose title of breaststroke queen took a hit when upstart Breeja Larson upset her in the 100 at the trials, will try to become the first woman since 1996 to win both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes in the same Olympics.
In the sprint freestyles, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, a stalwart on the Dutch sprint relay, may finally get a little limelight to herself. She has four of this year's five fastest times in the 50 free, including a world-best 24.10, and three of the top five times in the 100 free, including a 52.75, the only time under 53 seconds this year. One of the swimmers challenging her is Jessica Hardy, who had to leave the U.S. team four years ago because of a positive test for a banned substance. Hardy didn't make the London team in what she considers her best event, the 100 breaststroke, but she won both the 50 and 100 freestyles.
In the 200 and 400 freestyles, the USA's Allison Schmitt will be showing off some of the things she has picked up training for the last year with North Baltimore Aquatics' Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman, including powerful turns and underwaters. She will need every measure of speed and strength she has developed to hold off France's Camille Muffat, one of the best middle-distance freestylers in the world.
In Beijing, American women won just two golds among their 14 medals overall. In London, they'll be climbing to the top of the podium far more often, and here's why: Going by times posted this year, they have the top 100 butterflier in the world in Dana Vollmer, the top breaststroker in Soni and the top backstroker in Franklin. Those three could bring in as many as five gold medals in the individual stroke events. Elizabeth Beisel could add one in the 400 individual medley, and though Schmitt will be going up against stacked fields in the 400 and 200 freestyles, she, too, has a good shot. While the Americans' 4x100 medley should win for the first time since Sydney, the U.S. will be up against very strong Australian and Dutch teams in the 4x100 free relay.
Missy Franklin vs. Kirsty Coventry, 200 backstroke: Zimbabwe's Coventry, 28, is going for her third Olympic title in this event. Will Franklin, who has the fastest time in the world in the event, spoil her bid, as she helped foil Natalie Coughlin's chance at a triple in the 100 backstroke?
Elizabeth Beisel vs. Stephanie Rice, 400 individual medley: In Beijing, Australia's Rice set world records in winning both the 200 and 400 IMs, while Beisel, just 15 at the time, came in fourth in the 200 IM. But Beisel crushed Rice and everyone else in the 400 IM at last year's World Championships with blazing breast and freestyle legs. She was just as dominant at the U.S. Trials: Her time of 4:31.74, best in the world this year, was nearly three seconds better than that of runner-up Caitlin Leverenz, the 200 IM winner at the trials.
Allison Schmitt vs. Camille Muffat, 200 freestyle: Schmitt, 22, and Muffat, 22, the bronze medalist in the 200 and 400 freestyles at the World Championships, have both posted a number of notably fast times in the months leading up to London. Muffat popped a 1:54.66 in June, the fourth-fastest mark in history at the time. Schmitt was even better at the U.S. trials, clocking 1:54.40.
Katie Ledecky vs. Rebecca Adlington, 800 freestyle: At the U.S. trials, the 15-year-old Ledecky set and maintained a fierce pace in the 800 free to beat a childhood role model, Kate Ziegler, by more than two seconds. Ledecky's time of 8:19.78 is second in the world this year to the 8:18.54 for Adlington, the world-record holder and defending Olympic and world champion.
Far off the radar as a high schooler, Larson� didn't start swimming seriously until she was 17�. She was still off it this year as a Texas A&M sophomore, even after breaking Tara Kirk's six-year-old NCAA 100-yard breaststroke mark by a second in March. Larson then became one of the biggest surprises to make the U.S. Olympic team when she defeated heavy favorites Soni and Hardy in the 100 breaststroke at the trials. "I never heard of her before. Ever," Hardy said after finishing third in that race. You might hear the name again: Larson's trials final time of 1:05.92 is just .10 off Soni's semifinal time of 1:05.82, a world best this year.
The tireless researchers at swimswam.com have determined that Pisces is the most common zodiac sign on the U.S. swim team. Of the 49 team members, 13 were born under the sign of the Fish, including Soni, Hardy and Leverenz, excellent breaststrokers all.
July 28: 400 IM; 4x100 Freestyle relay
July 29: 100 butterfly; 400 freestyle
July 30: 100 backstroke; 100 breaststroke
July 31: 200 freestyle; 200 individual medley
Aug. 1: 200 butterfly; 4x200 freestyle relay
Aug. 2: 200 breaststroke; 100 freestyle
Aug. 3: 200 backstroke; 800 freestyle
Aug. 4: 50 freestyle; 4x100 medley relay