The women's 50-meter freestyle at the London Olympic Games promises to be fast and fun. Here's what (and who) to watch for when the Games open in July:
Ranomi Kromowidjojo: The 21-year-old Dutch swimmer accomplished the fastest time in the world (24.10) since the banning of high-tech swimsuits in 2009. She earned the silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, and with recent performances, seems to be the favorite heading into the London Olympic Games.
Fran Halsall: Halsall, a 22-year-old from Great Britain, will have the hometown crowd behind her. And with a textile-best time just three-hundredths of a second slower than Kromowidjojo's (24.13), Halsall could be a real contender to win gold. Though she didn't place at the 2011 World Championships, Halsall definitely has the speed and ability to take the top spot.
Therese Alshammar: Alshammar is the reigning world champion in the 50-meter freestyle, and her best time is 24.14 -- just four-hundredths of a second behind Kromowidjojo's. The 34-year-old first swam in the Olympic Games in 2000, where she earned silver in the 50-meter freestyle event. The Swedish swimmer finished fourth at the 2004 Olympic Games, and did not qualify for the final of the 50-meter freestyle at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Britta Steffen: Steffen, 28, is the defending champion in the 50-meter freestyle, and though she has yet to share her event line-up, it's difficult to leave the world-record holder out of the conversation. Though she entered the 50-meter freestyle at the 2011 FINA World Championships, the German swimmer did not compete in the event.
The X Factor:No one ever knows what kind of performance 45-year-old American Dara Torres is going to pull off. The mother of one only swims a limited number of events, so it's difficult for those outside of her circle to judge her fitness and readiness. One thing is for certain, though: Torres is mentally tough, and she's yet to win an individual gold medal. She earned the silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle in Beijing, which was the highest ever individual Olympic finish for the then-41-year-old. Can Torres pull of the upset in London and finally earn the coveted gold? First, she will have to simply qualify for the Olympic team when the U.S. holds trials in June and July.
Torres isn't the only one who could shake things up in London. Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom and Dutch swimmer Marleen Veldhuis also could impact the final standings.
The USA Today Medal Tracker, which projects medal winners based on past performance, has Alshammar finishing in first place, followed by Veldhuis and Kromowidjojo, but heading into the Games, the times are simply too close to call.
Read more from this contributor: Men's 50-Meter Freestyle Olympic Preview
Sandra Johnson was a competitive swimmer for more than 15 years before she began coaching. She is a longtime Olympic fan, and while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46