19 Cal swimmers look to make a splash in Rio

prenot4. Kevin Cheung
Kevin Cheung/File

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With 26 individual events, six relays and 19 Cal swimmers at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, there’s a lot to keep up with. Here are several of the most interesting races to watch:

Women’s 100-meter butterfly

This event will feature three Bears: Egypt’s Farida Osman, Canada’s Noemie Thomas and the USA’s Dana Vollmer. Vollmer, the defending Olympic champion and former world record holder in this event, is the fastest among this bunch. Despite a 15-month hiatus from swimming because of her pregnancy, Vollmer is blitzing past all expectations and should add to her career medal count. Thomas and Osman, on the other hand, aren’t as established on the international circuit in this event, but it wouldn’t be surprising if either earned a finals berth. While Osman has more experience on her side, Thomas gets the edge here after a phenomenal performance at the Canadian Olympic Trials in April.

Men’s 200-meter backstroke

After toppling defending Olympic gold medalist Tyler Clary in this event at Olympic Trials, Cal backstroke duo Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley will look to continue Team USA’s backstroke dominance. Since 1996, American backstrokers have won the gold medal at each of the Olympic Games and World Championships until Australia’s Mitch Larkin ended the streak last year. While Larkin will be the favorite in both backstroke events, Murphy has certainly evolved into Larkin’s toughest challenger. The race for bronze is much murkier, and Pebley is in that conversation. For their age and their eliteness, Murphy and Pebley are still dropping a lot of time, which makes predictions about them completely unpredictable.

Women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay

Between the preliminary heats and finals, this relay event should feature at least two former Bears for Team USA. Cierra Runge, who swam her freshman year at Cal before redshirting and transferring, will earn a spot in the preliminary heats in this event. If Runge swims a quick enough split, she could join former teammate Missy Franklin in finals. With Franklin and Katie Ledecky bookending this relay, Team USA should be untouchable in this event and may sneak under the world record set by China in 2009.

Men’s 4×100-meter medley relay

Although it probably won’t happen, it’s feasible for Team USA to establish a gold medal-winning medley relay made up of Cal athletes Murphy (backstroke), Josh Prenot (breaststroke), Tom Shields (butterfly) and Nathan Adrian (freestyle). Because of Team USA’s incredible depth, there could be up to eight different swimmers on the preliminary and finals squad. Murphy and Adrian, as Team USA’s top seed, should already be penciled into the finals squad. Shields can earn a finals spot if he beats Michael Phelps in the individual 100-meter butterfly, as Phelps has conceded his spot in the past. Either way, Australia, the only country that can dream of matching the USA’s depth, lacks a dominant butterflyer who would make this race a true nail-biter.

While there will be many other incredible races throughout the eight days of competition, the more compelling storylines are in the individual swimmers. Will Phelps’ swan song be unforgettable? How many gold medals and world records will Ledecky earn? Can Josh Prenot break the 200-meter breaststroke world record after missing it by .16 seconds at U.S. Olympic Trials? What will be Cal swimmers’ aggregate medal haul?

Contact Chris Zheng at [email protected].