(L to R) Clement Lefert – Yannick Agnel – Amaury Leveaux – Fabien Gilot celebrate after winning the gold medal in the men’s 4x100m freestyle finals during the London 2012 Olympic Games at Aquatics Centre. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
By Julian Linden
LONDON, July 29 (Reuters) – Ryan Lochte, Sun Yang and Yannick Agnel will all be chasing their second gold medals at the London Olympics when they square off in one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the swimming competition on Monday.
The trio will line up for the final of the 200 meters freestyle, along with Germany’s world record holder Paul Biedermann and South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan, in a stellar field that could decide bragging rights over who is the best swimmer at the Games.
Lochte won gold in the 400 individual medley, Sun won the 400 freestyle and Agnel anchored France to victory in the 4×100 freestyle relay.
The United States have won a medal in each of the eight finals decided so far at the London Aquatics Centre and has a great chance of keeping their streak going on the third day of competition.
Matt Grevers was the fastest qualifier for the men’s 100 backstroke while Colorado teenager Missy Franklin was second quickest in the women’s 100 backstroke and Rebecca Soni was second best in the 100 breaststroke.
Grevers, the latest in a long line of great American backstrokers, is the overwhelming favorite to win gold but Franklin and Soni both face stiff challenges.
Australia’s Emily Seebohm, who won a relay gold on Saturday, came agonizingly close to breaking the world record in the women’s backstroke and qualified almost a second faster than the 17-year-old Franklin.
“Emily’s race was unbelievable but I have no control over her and what she does,” said Franklin, who is entered in seven events in London. “The only thing I can control is myself.”
Soni, the 200 breaststroke champion in Beijing, was relegated to second place by an even younger rival, Lithuanian teenager Ruta Meilutyte.
The 15-year-old showed no sign of nerves in her first major international meeting by easily winning her semi-final, three-quarters of a second ahead of Soni.
Australia’s Leisel Jones, the defending Olympic champion who won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games when she was 15, finished sixth overall to qualify for her fourth straight Olympic final in the event.
Michael Phelps, yet to win a gold in London after completing two of his seven events, will start as the favorite in the 200 butterfly, which gets underway in the morning heats.
Monday’s heats also feature the preliminaries of the women’s 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley.