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Europe's best look for Olympic boost in Berlin

BERLIN -- A host of Olympic and world champions will compete in the European championships from Monday looking to land crucial early blows just two years out from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In recent times, the French team have been very strong, but they will be without Olympic 400m freestyle champion Camille Muffat who has retired.

Also out is backstroke specialist Camille Lacourt, the three-time world champion, who has a hip injury as well as sprint freestyler Frederic Bousquet, the six-time world medalist.

But Yannick Agnel will return to Europe from the United States where he trains alongside Michael Phelps, now back in competition, at North Baltimore.

The 22-year-old is both Olympic and world champion over in the 200m freestyle although he faces home favorite and world record holder Paul Biedermann in Berlin.

But whether the French can dominate as they have done in recent times is debatable.

Florent Manaudou is the reigning Olympic 50m freestyle champion but he will encounter opposition in the form of Great Britain's Ben Proud who won double gold at last month's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The 19-year-old stands atop the world rankings in the 50m butterfly — the only man under the 23-second mark — and he is third in Europe over 50m freestyle behind 2013 world silver medallist Vladimir Morozov and Manaudou.

While he is going straight into a second competition in the space of a few weeks, for his rivals the Berlin meet is their major one of the year.

“They are going to be tapered and ready for it whereas I'll still be a bit dazed from Commonwealths,” he said.

“Going into Commonwealths it was all about the time — if I could do a good time the medal would come.

“If I can move further on from that 21.7 or that 22.9, I don't see why medals aren't possible but competition in Europe is a lot harder than sprinting in Commonwealths.

“You've got Florent Manaudou, Rafael Munoz — so many people that are sprint focused. But it's going to be exciting, it's going to be another challenge.”

Olympic and world champion Daniel Gyurta may not be contesting the 200m breaststroke but he will still race over two lengths where he will come up against the strong British pairing of Adam Peaty and Ross Murdoch.

Gyurta's fellow Hungarian Katinka Hosszu is known as the “Iron Lady” because of the grueling multi-event programs she undertakes in competition throughout the year.

One of her main rivals for the 200m individual medley title, world ranked number one Siobhan-Marie O'Connor, has withdrawn through illness.

Neither will she face Hannah Miley in the longer individual medley.

However, she will meet Mireia Belmonte Garcia who, like Hosszu, will no doubt take on a grueling program.

Sarah Sjostrom took a sledgehammer to the 50m butterfly last month, lowering it to 24.43 seconds.

She may not replicate that but she will face an always-competitive foe in Britain's Fran Halsall.

Halsall won the 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games and in the latter hurtled to the top of the world rankings, 0.02sec ahead of Sjostrom's speediest effort of the season in 23.96, the fastest in history in a textile suit.

There will be no Ranomi Kromowidjojo, the Olympic 50m and 100m freestyle champion having withdrawn last month.

Another notable absentee will be Yuliya Efimova, the Russian double world breaststroke champion who is undergoing a 16-months drug ban.

Ruta Meilutyte, the Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, will contest only the 50m after arriving late at the championships following her involvement in the Youth Olympics in Nanjing.

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