Saturday, June 5, 2010

Swimming in Monaco

The first of two days at the Mare Nostrum meet in Monaco is in the books. Some of the top swimmers from Australia, Brazil, the United States, France, and many other nations are swimming a conventional format for all events from 100 to 400 as well as "Monaco 50s," a five-round knockout format. Some of these swimmers posted swift times on day 1, but racing was the best we've seen all year. All results are available in three languages, while you can watch live video of the races as well.

The Monaco 50s have a huge effect on the results at this stop of the Mare Nostrum tour. After focusing on the prelims of the 50 free, both France's Alain Bernard and Australia's Eamon Sullivan missed the finals of the 100 free. Bernard finished 13th in prelims, giving him the opportunity to swim in the B-final, where he won in 49.84, which would only have tied him for fourth in the final. Sullivan, meanwhile, did not get the same opportunity, finishing 17th in prelims. Some swimmers, such as Russia's Anastasia Zueva and USA's Jessica Hardy, decided to skip their longer events to focus on just the 50s in Monaco. Most likely, they will swim other events at other Mare Nostrum meets in the next week.

Undoubtedly, the most impressive performances today came in the women's breaststroke events. Russia's Yuliya Efimova improved on her top-ranked time in the world in the first of five rounds in the 50 breast. Additionally, she came in second in the 100 breast, clocking a swift 1:07.24, especially impressive for her fourth swim of the day. Also in her fourth swim of the day, American Rebecca Soni clocked 1:06.53, well off her second-ranked time in the world of 1:05.90 from the Charlotte Grand Prix. Soni has been a model of speedy consistency all year, and she now has four of the top six times this year in the 100 distance and four of the top five in the 200 breast. Later in the circuit, Soni will face Australia's Leisel Jones, the only swimmer who has posted times that rival her this year.

Notably absent from the 100 breast today was Soni's training partner Jessica Hardy, the world record-holder. Hardy decided to focus on 50s in Monaco, swimming freestyle, butterfly, and breaststroke. She holds the world record in the latter race. Ideally, if Hardy had advanced to the finals in all three, she would have swum 15 50s in 48 hours. However, she ended up dead-last in the quarter-finals of both fly and free, so she will just have the breaststroke tomorrow. In the semi-finals, the three fastest swimmers in history, Hardy, Efimova, and Soni will race along with Germany's Kerstin Vogel for the two spots in the final.

For the second time this year, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima and American Eric Shanteau faced off in the 200 breaststroke. Just like at the Missouri Grand Prix in February, Shanteau overtook his Japanese rival on the final lap to emerge with the victory, 2:11.51 to 2:12.17. The racers both swam times slower than expected; Shanteau has three times swum faster this year, including a 2:10.59 at the Charlotte UltraSwim, whilc Kitajima posted a 2:10.97 just last week in Irvine. The two will face off again at the Pan Pacs in August, while Australia's Brenton Rickard and Japan's Ryo Tateishi will also challenge. Expect it to be one of the best races of the year. Missing from the Pan Pacs will be Hungary's Daniel Gyurta, the man who out-touched Shanteau by just one one-hundredth for gold at the World Champs last year. Gyurta also closed on Kitajima in the last 50 in Monaco, finishing with a 2:12.23, just six one-hundredths out of second. These three could well end up the fastest swimmers in the world for 2010.

USA's Dana Vollmer pulled off a successful quadruple in the evening on day one. She posted a top-ranked 26.50 in round two of the 50 fly, cruised a 2:01 in the 200 free which placed her sixth, rebounded for a winning 58.91 in the 100 fly 15 minutes later, and finished second in round three of the 50 fly, where she clocked 26.82. Vollmer has set herself up to be one of the stars of USA Swimming this summer at Nationals and Pan Pacs. That 58.91 might be one of the most impressive swims of the day, considering the circumstances, and she can have a much better 200 free than she showed today. Perhaps later this week in Barcelona.

Vollmer qualified for the 50 fly finals along with world record-holder Therese Alshammar of Sweden, Hinkelien Schreuder of the Netherlands, and her training partner Natalie Coughlin. Coughlin and Vollmer will both race the 100 free tomorrow as well, along with Dutch swimmer Ranomi Kromowidjojo, the top-ranked swimmer in the world, as she posted a 53.44 in April. Like the Cal teammates, Kromowidjojo will swim in the semi-finals of the 50 free, so the three swimmers will each be swimming their second race of the night in the 100 free final. Despite this, all three swimmers could break 55 in an outstanding race.

In the men's 50 fly, Australia's Geoff Huegill led the way through quarter-finals with a swift 23.89, not far from his year best of 23.46 from March, a swim just two one-hundredths away from his lifetime best, a then-world record of 23.44 from 2001. His comeback from obesity is one that the swimming world and Australian general media has followed with great interest. As the 31 year-old goes into Commonwealth Games this summer as one of the favorites for gold, he breaks down his opponents race after race. He defeated Aussies Matt Targett and Andrew Lauterstein at their Trials in March, and he pushed Roland Schoeman, a co-favorite for Commonwealth Games gold, out of the quarter-finals today. Germany's Steffen Diebler remains in the field as Huegill's toughest competition. The short course world record-holder, Diebler twice swam 23.98 today, and he goes into the semi-finals ranked second. Defeating Diebler in a one-on-one final would be a major step in Huegill's progression.

Huegill has made it to Commonwealth Games but not in an Olympic event. He is slated to swim the 50 fly by virtue of his win in that event at Australian Nationals. However, he still has a chance to swim the 100 fly at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The top two finishers from the Trials, Andrew Lauterstein and Chris Wright, have already earned Delhi berths, but Huegill will battle Mitchell Patterson, Nick D'arcy, and fellow 2000 and 2004 Olympian Adam Pine for the third and final spot. As Huegill gets even further into his comeback, his 100 fly will improve. If Huegill can get to Commonwealth Games in the 100 fly and succeed in that event, he will have a chance for 2012. At the age of 33, he has seen the highs of competitive sport, followed by the lows of a lazy lifestyle. A return to the Olympics would be a return to the high.

Aaron Peirsol has not seen his typical successes this year. Following five years where no American beat him in a backstroke race, he gradually became vulnerable in the 200 back when his teammate Ryan Lochte closed in and stole all of his records and titles. In 2009, he reclaimed the top spot in the 200 back but suffered a shocking miss in the 100 back, losing his hold. However, since that amazing 200 back in Rome, he has not won an individual backstroke race. On the American circuit, four Americans have beaten him in a 100 back this year: Nick Thoman, Matt Grevers, David Plummer, and Michael Phelps. In his only 200 back since Rome, he finished nearly three seconds behind Lochte at the Charlotte UltraSwim, as well as Sebastiano Ranfagni, Grevers, Thoman, and Matt Hawes. As he returned to international waters today, France's Camille Lacourt beat him by more than a second, 53.97 to 55.21. (Shout-out to my British counterpart at the Speed Endurance blog for predicting that.) Both had just swam round two of the knockout 50 back. Peirsol may advance to the semi-finals of the 50 back (he tied for fourth in the quarter-finals), and he also will face Austria's Markus Rogan in the 200 back. Rogan, who finished second to Peirsol in both backstrokes in Athens, has the opportunity to take down Peirsol for the first time in his career. A loss to Rogan on the Mare Nostrum tour would not be significant; what would be, however, is losing his previously all-but-guaranteed spot on the U.S. roster in both backstroke distances. Does this disappointing season mean that Peirsol is losing his touch, or will he step it up, like he so often does, when push comes to shove?

Predictions for Day Two Finals:
50 Free - Fred Bousquet, France
200 Free - Paul Biedermann, Germany
50 Back - Camille Lacourt, France
200 Back - Markus Rogan, Austria
50 Breast - Kosuke Kitajima, Japan
100 Breast - Kosuke Kitajima, Japan
50 Fly - Geoff Huegill, Australia
100 Fly - Andrew Lauterstein, Australia
400 IM - Thiago Pereira, Brazil

50 Free - Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Netherlands
100 Free - Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Netherlands
400 Free - Coralie Balmy, France
50 Back - Anastasia Zueva, Russia
100 Back - Zhao Jing, China
50 Breast - Jessica Hardy, USA
200 Breast - Rebecca Soni, USA
50 Fly - Therese Alshammar, Sweden
200 Fly - Samantha Hamill, Australia
200 IM - Camille Muffat, France

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