Couple things about a great session of finals before I preview the last session of prelims.
- That 100 fly was classic. Both Phelps and Cavic were actually out faster than I expected and came back slower, but it was definitely the best race of the meet.
- The swims by Coventry and Beisel in the 200 back show that they are both medal threats in the 400 IM tomorrow... (more below)
- Dara Torres on twitter: "That is by far the happiest 8th place finish I've ever had...haha!! Never thought I'd say that being how competitive I am!" She just slipped into the eighth spot in the 50 free. Considering her ailing knee and inconsistent training from this year, she clearly does not expect the same from herself as she did last year. On the bright side, this may not be it for her quite yet...
Men's 400 IM: This race should be between the men who took silver and bronze in Beijing, Ryan Lochte of the U.S. and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. They are also the second and third fastest performers in history. However, both are more than two seconds away from Michael Phelps' world record, so expect that to live past Roma, although Phelps' meet record from 2007 should fall. Both men are strong at all four strokes, but the race will really come down to who swims it the best. One main reason Cseh beat Lochte into third in Beijing was Lochte's misguided race strategy (as well as his illness). He took the butterfly and first 50 of backstroke out a little bit too fast, not leaving him with enough energy to use the breaststroke and freestyle as he has in the past. Another medal favorite is Tyler Clary, who has been 4:06.99. Expect Clary to be out in the first half of the race, considering fly and back are his best strokes, most likely under world record-pace. He will come back to the field on the breaststroke, his weakest stroke, but he has a very solid freestyle. Also there is Brazil's Thiago Pereira, who finished fourth in the 200 IM in Beijing and also here. In Beijing, he was fourth for most of this race, but faded to eighth on the last 50, proving that freestyle is by far his weakest stroke. Also watch two solid Italian IMers, Luca Marin, who won bronze behind Phelps and Lochte in Melbourne, and Alessio Boggiatto, who has taken fourth in this event for three straight Olympics, and also the 2001 world champ.
Women's 400 IM: Two women battled head-to-head for gold in Beijing, becoming the first two ever under 4:30, but the rest of the world has closed the gap. Stephanie Rice holds the world record and is coming off a silver in the 200 IM to American Ariana Kukors (who is not in the longer medley). However, the rest of her meet has been very mediocre, including bombing out of the 200 free. She could very well be back on top for one of her signature events. Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, the Olympic silver medalist, did not swim well at the beginning of the meet, finishing fourth in the 200 IM and eighth in the 100 back, but she back-halfed her way to a world record in the 200 back. She will probably be under her best time tomorrow. Also watch for Hungary's Katinka Hosszu, who has had a brilliant meet so far. Going into this, her best event, the Southern California standout has already taken two bronzes, in the 200 fly and 200 IM. She definitely has the potential to get under 4:30 and medal. Great Britain's Hannah Miley is ranked fourth all-time, and she has had a great year, so expect her to challenge for a medal. Coming off a great swim in the 200 back, look for Elizabeth Beisel to be an outside medal threat. Italy's Alessia Filippi has already won a pair of medals in distance free, and the finalist in Beijing may have a chance for a medal here as well. American Julia Smit has not swum as well in Rome as she did at Nationals in Indianapolis, but she is a threat to final and has an outside podium shot.
Men's 400 medley relay: With the way the events of the meet have unfolded, it appears the only thing that could keep the Americans off the top of the podium is missing finals, like they did today in the women's relay. However, it shouldn't be a problem for the men, and with Aaron Peirsol*, Eric Shanteau, Michael Phelps, and Dave Walters, gold should be pretty certain. (If indeed they swim their B-team in prelims, it would consist of Matt Grevers*, Mark Gangloff, Tyler McGill, and Nathan Adrian.) A team with a real chance to get up on the podium and possibly challenge the Americans is Germany. They will have Helge Meeuw, the silver medalist in the 100 back; Hendrik Feldwehr, who made the 100 breast final; Benjamin Starke, a 100 fly semi-finalist; and then Paul Biedermann, their national record-holder (48.39 in an old suit) who has had an excellent week. (Their chance for a medal decreases if they do not swim Biedermann.) France should be good as well, with a superior breaststroker (Hugues Duboscq) and freestyler (Alain Bernard), as well as solid swimmers in the other strokes. Brazil has a surprisingly good relay, consisting of finalists in the 100 breast (Henrique Barbosa) and 100 fly (Gabriel Mangabeira) and the 100 free champion Cesar Cielo. Australia has a superb breaststroke leg with world champ Brenton Rickard, but the other swimmers don't have the firepower to match up with the favorites. Japan has 100 back world champion Junya Koga, but they will really fade towards the end. Other teams with chances to make the final eight include Russia, Great Britain, South Africa, and possibly New Zealand and Italy.
*Even though Grevers finished higher than Peirsol in the 100 back, Peirsol has the world record and swam unbelieveably in the 200 back, leading most to believe he will swim finals.