Sunday, July 31, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Eight

The 14th edition of the FINA World Championships came to a close today in Shanghai, and the American team walked away with top honors. The Stars and Stripes posted double bookends on this final day of competition. Jessica Hardy and Ryan Lochte won the women’s 50 breast and men’s 400 IM, respectively. Elizabeth Beisel picked up steam in the penultimate event, the women’s 400 IM, before Nathan Adrian held off James Magnussen for an American win in the men’s medley relay. Additionally, Sweden’s Therese Alshammar made up for a disappointing loss in the 50 fly yesterday with a world title in the women’s 50 free before Liam Tancock earned Britain’s second gold of the week in an upset over France’s Camille Lacourt in the men’s 50 back.

In the most thrilling race of the night, China’s Sun Yang took down the oldest record in the books in the men’s 1500 free. Grant Hackett set the previous mark of 14:34.56 a full decade ago, and only this mark among men’s records survived the supersuit era. Sun took the lead from the outset but was already behind world record pace at the 100. However, he held his pace at two seconds above world record pace the entire race. When he flipped at the 1400 mark, he turned on the jets. He closed in a monster 25.94, faster even than any closing 50 in the 200, 400 or 800 free! And it was enough; Sun touched in 14:34.14, the fastest time ever.

All in all, an excellent week in Shanghai. There were some surprises, such as the tie in the women’s 100 free between Aliaksandra Herasimenia and Jeanette Ottesen, while some results stayed the same, such as in the men’s 200 fly, where Michael Phelps won his fifth World title in the event, the most ever. Beyond Sun’s world record today, China won five gold medals in the pool this week, clearly establishing them as the second-best team in the world. Comparatively, the usually-strong Australians won just two gold medals, both on the back of sprint star James Magnussen, while the formerly-premier Australian women did not win any races. The British team also looked weak most of the week but came around with two gold medals on the last two days to gain valuable momentum headed into a home Olympics next year.

The Americans, however, really dominated this meet. The women, winner of just two golds in Beijing and Rome, won eight here. Led by 16 year old superstar Missy Franklin and breaststroke queen Rebecca Soni, they took relay golds on the global stage for the first time in four years. They won golds in back, breast, free, and IM and as high as silver in free. It looks like the only weak spots are sprint to mid-distance free; no American finished higher than sixth in the 50, 100, 200, and 400 free. I picked Natalie Coughlin, Allison Schmitt, and Katie Hoff to medal in those events, but all fell off the fast pace required. Those swimmers and others will need to make big improvements to be factors in London next summer.

On the men’s side, the Americans looked great in the IM and butterfly races, and Peter Vanderkaay and Chad La Tourette answered some of the questions over the American distance program, though neither medaled. Americans did not overwhelm in backstroke and breaststroke events this week (other than a 1-3 finish in the 200 back), but with U.S. Nationals coming up this week, we will get a better idea of what is to expect in the those events in the next year. Again, problems showed in the sprint events; coming off a tough year, Nathan Adrian surprisingly failed to medal in either the 50 or 100 free, neither Cullen Jones (50 free) and Jason Lezak (100 free) advanced to the semi-finals of their respective races.

Most importantly, however, the Americans came in third in the 400 free relay. Michael Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale, Jason Lezak, and Adrian all posted slower-than-expected times to come in behind an on-fire team from Down Under and the solid French. Again, we will find out more at Nationals when former relay members such as Matt Grevers take to the blocks, but the American sprinters will once again need to take their game to the next level if they want to return that gold to American waters in that event in London. The big storylines headed into next summer’s Olympics are still developing, but the American goal of bringing this title back to American waters will surely make headlines.

Two final plotlines, however, will stand above all others in the next year: the showdowns between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, and the quest for more world records. Lochte, clearly the better-prepared of the two, earned the upper-hand over Phelps in both the 200 free and 200 IM this week. With both headed into a full year of hard training, both of those races should be fast and furious in a year. Meanwhile, Lochte and Sun Yang have broken the ice of the world record-drought, and more are to come. Maybe we’ll see another record broken at this week’s Nationals, or maybe no mark will fall until London in a year. Regardless, both of these storylines will steal attention of not just swim fans but also mainstream media in the run-up to London.

Finally, the prediction contest results. In case anyone forgot, I am the swim geek.

1. David Rieder 364
2. Matt Salzberg 363
3. Chris DeSantis 339
4. Melissa German 319
4. Braden Keith 319
6. John Liu 310
7. John Lohn 308
8. Jerry Shandrew 302
8. Tom Willdridge 302
10. Kristine Sorenson 288
11. Sebastian Schwenke 228

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Eight Finals Preview

The last session of finals is coming up at the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai, and after a long week of racing, the end is in sight. With seven more finals on tap for the final night, I’ll do a quick preview of each right now. First up is the women’s 50 breast, where American Jessica Hardy is expected to win gold for the second time, after first taking the title in 2007. She clocked 30.20 in yesterday’s prelims, just off her top-ranked time of 30.17 from May. I think she’ll cruise to the gold here and swim around the 30.03 she posted at Pan Pacs last summer. I don’t think she will get to her world record of 29.80, but I predict she breaks 30. Meanwhile, Rebecca Soni and Yuliya Efimova will battle for the silver, while Aussies Leiston Pickett and Leisel Jones look to break up the trio of Dave Salo-trained swimmers gunning for the medals.

1. Hardy
2. Soni
3. Efimova

Ryan Lochte will go for his fifth gold of the World Championships when he takes to the blocks for the 400 IM. He hasn’t swum many 400 IMs this season, but look for him to put together an awesome swim and lead the world rankings for the third consecutive year. I think he will sneak under Michael Phelps’ Championships Record of 4:06.22. Tyler Clary took bronze behind Lochte in the 200 back, but look for him to do one better here as the Americans go for their third straight 1-2 finish in the event. Phelps and Lochte, respectively, pulled it off in 2007, while Lochte and Clary matched the feat in 2009. Hungarian Laszlo Cseh won this title in 2005 and medaled in 2003 and 2009, and he could be in the mix, along with teammate David Verraszto, Brazil’s Thiago Pereira, Japan’s Yuya Horihata, and home favorite Wang Chengxiang.

UPDATE: Pereira did not show up for his prelim heat, despite finishing fourth in Rome.

1. Lochte
2. Clary
3. Cseh

This field in the women’s 50 free is among the most wide open of the meet, but I think it comes down to the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Sweden’s Therese Alshammar for the gold. Kromowidjojo, the World Short Course champ, is the youngest of the Dutch sprint stars, and she clocked 24.56 in the semi-finals to lead the field. Alshammar, meanwhile, has been winning international medals for almost two decades. She took the third spot into the final after finishing runner-up in the 50 fly earlier in the night. 100 free co-champions Aliaksandra Herasimenia and Jeanette Ottesen both made the final, along with American Jessica Hardy.

1. Alshammar
2. Kromowidjojo
3. Herasimenia

Camille Lacourt has long been talked about as the favorite for the men’s 50 back after clocking 24.07 to win last year’s European title. That time missed Liam Tancock’s world record in the event of 24.04 by just 0.03. Tancock, however, made a statement in the semi-final with a 24.62 clocking. The race between these two men should be fast and furious, but I give a slight edge to Tancock since Lacourt has shown that he is not at his best this week. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Gerhard Zandberg will also be in the mix, perhaps even up with the top-two, and he won the title back in 2007 before taking bronze in 2009. I also think Spain’s Aschwin Wildeboer and USA’s Nick Thoman will be tough to beat in the final.

1. Tancock
2. Lacourt
3. Wildeboer

One of the most anticipated races of the last day is the men’s 1500 free, and the buzz is that Sun Yang will break Grant Hackett’s decade-old world record of 14:34.56. So far, only one record has fallen this week. I predict that Sun will pull it off. All of us viewers at home will have to mute our live video feeds as the crowd goes nuts and lifts the roof off the building. Sun looked easy in prelims as he alone broke 14:50, clocking 14:48.13. Ryan Cochrane, the defending silver medalist, looked easy in winning his heat to qualify fifth, and he has a big swim in him in that final. Gergo Kis clocked a strong 14:52.72 for the second seed, but I think he might not have anymore time to drop. Thus, I am picking American Chad La Tourette to move up from the fourth seed to take third. Reigning World and Olympic champion Ous Mellouli did not qualify for the final.

1. Sun
2. Cochrane
3. La Tourette

China’s Ye Shiwen blazed home in the women’s 200 IM to steal the gold medal, and I think she doubles up in the 400 IM. She will be well behind going into the freestyle, but she can catch anyone who is three seconds ahead, just like she did in the 200 IM. Meanwhile, world record-holder Stephanie Rice looked good in the 200 IM to finish fourth, and I think she takes a podium spot here. American Elizabeth Beisel has a big opening for the top-three here, with many of the top names in the event swimming poorly, such as Mireia Belmonte, Kirsty Coventry, and Katinka Hosszu. I predict Beisel to edge Britain’s Hannah Miley, who had been my original pick for bronze.

1. Ye
2. Rice
3. Beisel

The men’s medley relay will bring the competition to an end, and it should be a good one. Many have talked about the French posing a serious threat to the United States, but this is the Americans’ race to lose. Nick Thoman or David Plummer (or possibly Ryan Lochte) will keep them within striking distance of the French backstroker, either Camille Lacourt or Jeremy Stravius. Reports indicate that Eric Shanteau will handle the breaststroke leg instead of 100 breast finalist Mark Gangloff, and he should gain ground, as Hughes Duboscq did not look good this meet. Michael Phelps should take a huge lead over Fred Bousquet on the fly leg, and Nathan Adrian will hold off William Meynard for the win. The Aussies, anchored by James “the Missile” Magnussen, should earn the bronze, especially since legs from Germany and Japan have underperformed in Shanghai.

1. United States
2. France
3. Australia

Shanghai 2011: Day Seven

The six finals on day seven in Shanghai featured another six opportunities for exciting and fast racing. Veteran Therese Alshammar went into the women’s 50 fly as the huge favorite, only for Inge Dekker to get the better of her on the home stretch. No one caught Cesar Cielo in the men’s 50 free, as he posted the largest margin of victory in history. Missy Franklin’s continued on the fast track to superstardom with the third-fastest time ever in the women’s 200 back for the gold, while Australia’s Belinda Hocking grabbed the fourth spot on the all-time list in an impressive silver medal showing for Australia. Then Michael Phelps was back in the pool, cruising to gold in the 100 fly, before Rebecca Adlington produced on of the most impressive final two laps I’ve ever seen to track down Lotte Friis for the 800 free win and her first world title.

Over the past few years, many have talked about the potential of the British women’s team headed into the London Olympics. Adlington kicked off these talks in Beijing with a double gold medal finish, and things looked good in Rome in 2009 when Gemma Spofforth took gold in the 100 back, Joanne Jackson won three freestyle medals, Fran Halsall taking world silver in the 100 free, Hannah Miley nearly stepped up onto the medal podium in the 400 IM, and the team took an impressive relay bronze in the 800 free. However, some of the team’s performances have gradually taken a dip, including slower-than-expected championship times. The team underperformed at last year’s European and Commonwealth Games, with teams ranging from Australia to Hungary stealing the show away in key events

In Shanghai, before today, the British women had won just two medals in Shanghai, Adlington’s silver in the 400 free, Ellen Gandy’s bronze in the 200 fly. Halsall had come up short in the 100 free, while Spofforth missed the semi-final of the 100 back. Adlington’s monster final 100 split of 59.65, faster even than her opening split of 59.69, changed the momentum. After two full World Champs meets of struggle and continually coming up short, it looked like Adlington’s third trip to the global showcase would once again end in disappointment. However, today she showed heart and guts to overcome Friis’ lead and take the world title. That win will provide the springboard to a nation whose hopes and dreams in the pool rest on the performances a year from this week away. Additionally, look for that momentum to carry into tomorrow’s competition, where Liam Tancock (50 back) and Hannah Miley (400 IM) are favorites.

Another women’s team concluded a momentum shift today that saw them reclaim the title as top women’s team in the world. In 2008, the American women won just two gold medals (of the 12 total U.S. wins): Natalie Coughlin in the 100 back and Rebecca Soni in the 200 breast. They won no relays at those Olympics. In addition to that duo, only four other American women, Katie Hoff, Margaret Hoelzer, Dara Torres, and Christine Magnuson earned individual hardware after a string of disappointing performances. In Rome the next year, things did not improve much. Soni (100 breast) and Ariana Kukors (200 IM) won gold, but again no American relays did so, and of the three teams only the 800 free relay medaled. The 400 free relay took fourth, while the 400 medley team did not advance to the final.

At this meet in Shanghai, the team has shown considerable improvement. Missy Franklin emerged as a true superstar, winning gold in the 200 back and posting the top time of the meet in the 200 free. Soni won both the 100 and 200 breast, while Dana Vollmer earned top honors in the 100 fly. Meanwhile, Jessica Hardy is favored to make it one more win in tomorrow’s 50 breast. Coughlin, Kukors, and Ziegler all won medals, while Hoff, Allison Schmitt, Chloe Sutton, and Elizabeth Beisel have all been in the mix. At least one American has qualified for 15 of 16 possible finals so far.

Most importantly, however, the American women won two of the three relays. Not only did they win, they dominated both. Franklin, Dagny Knutson, Hoff, and Schmitt reclaimed the 800 free relay for the first time since 2007, while Coughlin, Soni, Vollmer, and Franklin earned the medley relay title that America last won at the Worlds back in 1998. That last fact brought tears to the eyes of Coughlin, the lead-off swimmer on this relay 10 of the last 11 years. Of the 12 golds Team USA has already won in Shanghai, the women have won half of them. Once again, for the first time in almost a decade, the American women are at the top of the world.

With one day and seven finals left at the World Championships, here are the standings in my prediction contest. The win will come down to Matt Salzberg and me. Check back later for a preview of the last session of swimming in Shanghai.

1. David Rieder 304
2. Matt Salzberg 300
3. Chris DeSantis 266
4. Melissa German 263
4. John Lohn 263
6. Braden Keith 260
7. John Liu 252
8. Jerry Shandrew 238
9. Kristine Sorenson 236
10. Tom Willdridge 235
11. Sebastian Schwenke 190

Friday, July 29, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Six

Another fast day of swimming is in the books in Shanghai with five more swimmers walking away with gold… uh, actually six more. In my finals preview yesterday, I mentioned six of the eight swimmers in the 100 free final; the two I skipped, Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen and Belarus’ Aliaksandra Herasimenia, came from nowhere and ended up tying for the gold medal. Meanwhile, the Ryan Lochte train kept rolling through the 200 back, obliterating everyone, while Rebecca Soni hung on for gold in the women’s 200 breast. Kosuke Kitajima led through 175 in the men’s 200 breast, but he could not hang on as Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta roared home to his second consecutive world title in the event. Finally, the Lochte train made one more stop in the 800 free relay as he roared past Fabien Gilot for his fourth gold medal of the week.

Meanwhile, six more finals are on the agenda for tomorrow’s finals, beginning with the women’s 50 fly. Sweden’s Therese Alshammar holds the world record (25.07), textile best and 2011’s top-ranked time (25.37), and the number one seed for the final (25.52). Despite losing out in a tight finish back in 2009, I think she will be untouchable here and reclaim her world title that she previously won in 2007. Dutchwoman Inge Dekker, China’s Lu Ying, and Alshammar’s teammate Sarah Sjostrom will also start from the middle lanes, while American Dana Vollmer is a darkhorse from lane eight, barely qualifying just minutes after competing in the 100 free final.

1. Alshammar
2. Lu
3. Vollmer

Brazil finished 1-2 in the semi-finals of the men’s 50 free. Bruno Fratus clocked 21.76, while his more-decorated teammate Cesar Cielo checked in at 21.79. Cielo is the reigning World and Olympic champion and world record-holder, and I think he’ll take the win in the final. However, I’m not sure if Fratus has anything left in the tank. American Nathan Adrian qualified third in 21.94, and Adrian will try to make up for a disappointing sixth-place finish in the 100 free. The field is wide open, especially after defending silver medalist Fred Bousquet missed the semi-finals, and an attack could come from any of the eight qualifiers. Watch Olympic bronze medalist Alain Bernard in lane eight as a darkhorse.

1. Cielo
2. Adrian
3. Fratus

American Missy Franklin has established herself as the clear favorite for gold in the final of the women’s 200 back. She clocked a personal-best time of 2:07.71 in prelims to lead qualifiers before recording a 2:05.90 in her semi-final to break Margaret Hoelzer’s American record of 2:06.09 from 2008. Franklin is now the third-fastest performer in history, and both ahead of her (Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry and Russia’s Anastasia Zueva) missed the cut for the final. She is the prohibitive favorite for gold tomorrow in the final. Meanwhile, I predict fellow American Elizabeth Beisel to take the silver. With Australians Meagan Nay and Belinda Hocking and Britain’s Elizabeth Simmonds not swimming at their respective bests and many gold medal favorites missing the final, Beisel has a real opening here.

1. Franklin
2. Beisel
3. Hocking

Next up is the men’s 100 fly. Kenya’s Jason Dunford has a lot of speed and might take the lead at the start, but this race will be all about USA’s Michael Phelps. Exerting very little energy, he clocked 51.47 in the semi-final for the top seed and holds the world’s fastest time at 51.32 from last month. I expect Phelps to blast a low-50 swim in the final and get down to Ian Crocker’s textile best of 50.40 from the Montreal World Champs six years ago. Meanwhile, the race for silver is wide open, with top contenders including Japan’s Takuro Fujii, American Tyler McGill, Australia’s Geoff Huegill, and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak.

1. Phelps
2. Huegill
3. McGill

In the final heat of the women’s 800 free, Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington and defending World champion Lotte Friis pushed each other to respective times of 8:22.27 and 8:23.07, and no one is within 4.5 seconds. However, no other contender had nearly the level of competition within the heat as those two, so despite qualifying fourth in 8:28.28, I expect American Kate Ziegler to be a big threat. Ziegler won world titles in this event in 2005 and 2007 and also won the Pan Pacific title last year. Fellow American Chloe Sutton rebounded from ninth-place finishes in both the 400 and 1500 to qualify third here in 8:27.72, but I don’t think she can hang with the big three.

1. Adlington
2. Friis
3. Ziegler

The women’s medley relay brings to a close the penultimate night of action in Shanghai, and I predict the Americans to win gold for the first time since 1998. Rebecca Soni (breast) and Dana Vollmer (fly) each won gold in their respective 100 races, Natalie Coughlin won bronze in the 100 back, and Missy Franklin split a blazing 52.99 on the 400 free relay. China, meanwhile, won gold in the 100 back with Zhao Jing, bronzes in the 100 breast (Ji Liping) and 100 fly (Lu Ying), while Tang Yi split 53.12 to anchor the 400 free relay. Australia will lead off with Emily Seebohm and Leisel Jones, while Alicia Coutts is their fastest flyer and freestyler. Replacing her with either Jessicah Schipper (fly) or Yolane Kukla (free) will hurt. Another option is to swim Seebohm on free, Coutts on fly, and Hocking on back.

1. United States
2. China
3. Australia

In 2009, the Americans fell victim to a deep field and missed qualifying for finals. To avoid a repeat, they will need to swim some strong legs during prelims. The obvious B-team quartet is Elizabeth Pelton (back), Amanda Beard (breast), Christine Magnuson (fly), and Kara Lynn Joyce (free), but I don’t think risking missing finals just to use these swimmers is worth it. Jessica Hardy is another option for either the breast or free leg, but she will have the prelims of the 50 free and 50 breast in the same session. Some finals swimmers will have to swim twice in order to be safe in qualifying.

In prelims tonight/tomorrow morning, depending on where you are, we will see a swim-off for first alternate in the men’s 50 free. Australia’s Matt Targett and Russia’s Sergey Fesikov tied for ninth place in 22.09, prompting the need for a swim-off, despite the fact that neither man will go through to the final regardless. Definitely could be interesting to keep an eye on, and maybe one or both will swim a time in the 21 range. The calm water in a swim-off situation combined with impressive performances already in Shanghai for both men could lead to some nice fireworks for prelims.

Finally, Eric Shanteau provided more good news for the American men’s medley relay today. He finished fourth in the 200 breast today in 2:09.28, much faster than last year’s best of 2:10.09. Thus, he should be able to put up a split in the 59-mid range on the relay, which should be enough to put the Americans close enough to the lead where Michael Phelps can crush his opponents and Nathan Adrian cruise home to victory. With Hughes Duboscq missing finals in either breaststroke event, the news keeps getting better for the American men in their quest for gold.

After six days of competition in Shanghai, the scores in the prediction contest are as follows. Looks like a two-man race for the top spot, and I am in the lead!

1. David Rieder 252
2. Matt Salzberg 248
3. Melissa German 223
4. Chris DeSantis 219
5. Braden Keith 218
6. John Lohn 214
7. John Liu 212
8. Kristine Sorenson 208
9. Jerry Shandrew 196
10. Tom Willdridge 187
11. Sebastian Schwenke 152

Shanghai 2011: Day Six Finals Preview

The sixth night of finals will feature five more races for medals. Things will kick off with the women’s 100 free final. Olympic and World champion Britta Steffen withdrew from the competition after finishing 16th in prelims, but she was not expected to be a major factor in this 100 free regardless. The Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk split a 52.46 on the 400 free relay on opening night to anchor the Dutch to a world title, and she continued her top form with a strong time of 1:55.54 in the semi-finals of the 200 free. Meanwhile, she will have to deal with countrywoman Ranomi Kromowidjojo, the top-ranked swimmer in the world in 2010; and Brit Fran Halsall, who led the semi-finals with a time of 53.48, the fastest this year. Aussie Alicia Coutts has already won two silver medals in Shanghai, losing the gold in tight finishes in both, while Americans Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer have far more to give than the 54.05 that left the two tied for sixth in the semi-finals.

1. Heemskerk
2. Halsall
3. Kromowidjojo

USA’s Ryan Lochte goes for his third gold medal of the meet in the men’s 200 back. Having already won the 200 free and set a world record in the 200 IM, he should be able to take the win here. He qualified first for the final in 1:55.65. I do not think he’ll get down to Aaron Peirsol’s world record of 1:51.92, but he could reach into the 1:53-low range or possibly even 1:52-high. Japan’s Ryosuke Irie finished right behind Lochte in the semi-final, and he took the silver behind the now-retired Peirsol at the 2009 World Champs in Rome. He is just as strong on top of the water as Lochte, but Lochte will hammer the underwaters, which really could make the difference here. Another American, Tyler Clary, grabbed third in the semi-finals in 1:56.00, and I really think the medalists will be these three men. Clary won silver behind Lochte at Pan Pacs last year. Sticking with my original prediction here.

1. Lochte
2. Irie
3. Clary

The women’s 200 breast will be all about Rebecca Soni. Soni cruised to gold in the 100 distance, leading the field in each round by more than a second. She clocked 2:21.03 in the semi-final today, more than 2.5 seconds ahead of second seed Yuliya Efimova. I think she has more in the tank still; she will challenge Annamay Pierse’s world record of 2:20.12, but I predict she will come up just short. She will, however, beat Leisel Jones’ textile best of 2:20.54 and her top time from last year, a 2:20.69 posted at the Pan Pacific Championships. I predict Pierse to edge Efimova for the silver medal, while defending champion Nadja Higl sits out in lane eight. Having done absolutely nothing in the event since winning the title in Rome two years ago, I do not expect much, but she is the darkhorse of the bunch.

1. Soni
2. Pierse
3. Efimova

After finishing a disappointing fourth in the 100 breast, Kosuke Kitajima is back for the men’s 200 breast. He led the semi-final qualifiers in 2:08.81, just ahead of Daniel Gyurta’s 2:08.92, but reports from Shanghai indicate Kitajima might not have much time to drop from this swim. Kitajima’s teammate Naoya Tomita leads the world rankings at 2:08.25, but he did not make it to the final here. Germany’s Christian Von Lehm posted a 2:09.44 in the semi-final to qualify third, after swimming a 2:08.97 eight weeks ago. Eric Shanteau, the runner-up to Gyurta in Rome, won his semi-final heat in 2:10.03 and will be pushing for a medal as well. I predict Gyurta to defend his title here.

1. Gyurta
2. Kitajima
3. Shanteau

The American men should cruise in the 800 free relay to an easy win. Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps went 1-2 in the 200 free final, while Peter Vanderkaay has been swimming well, including an impressive fourth place-finish in the 400 free. Ricky Berens, Dave Walters, and Conor Dwyer will battle for rights to swim the fourth leg of the relay. Meanwhile, 100 free winner James Magnussen might put in a leg for Australia after his teammates in the 200 free underwhelmed in the individual event. Sun Yang will lead the Chinese charge, while Russia won silver in the last Olympics and Worlds and had two swimmers in the individual 200 free final.

1. United States
2. Russia
3. China

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Five

Another day is in the books at the World Championships in Shanghai. On this fifth day of competition, we saw perhaps the best fireworks of the week thus far, including the first world record of the championships. Not only that, but also the first world record of 2011 and the first long course mark set since December of 2009. Ryan Lochte went out fast and did what he needed to do to not only get ahead of super-rival Michael Phelps, but with 15 meters to go, I saw something I had not seen in a long time; Lochte’s fingertips had come into contact with the red line that represents world record pace. From there, he put his head down and finished with enough power to beat the 1:54.10 he clocked in Rome two years ago. The clock said 1:54.00, faster than anybody had ever swum.

Check out these screenshots, courtesy of the Universal Sports race video. It had been too long since we had scen images such as this.

In my prediction blog yesterday, I said that Ryan Lochte would get down to his mark. I also said that Michael Phelps would break into the 1:54-range to finish second. However, I did not expect Phelps to show such staying power on the back half to push Lochte all the way to the finish as he did. Certainly, I did not think Phelps would beat his personal best time. But Phelps clocked 1:54.16 today, faster than the 1:54.33 he swam at the Beijing Olympics for his sixth of eight gold medals (and sixth world record). And he apparently did this off limited training? Next year in London, with both at their peak, both men will be faster and into the 1:53-range; only “epic” will describe that race.

Up next, in the men’s 100 free final, James Magnussen showed the world that he is a force to be reckoned with in the two-lapper. In 47.63, he backed up the 47.49 relay lead-off he notched on Sunday to beat out Canada’s Brent Hayden (47.95) and France’s William Meynard (48.00), with world record-holder Cesar Cielo fourth (48.01). America, meanwhile, had to settle for sixth place with Nathan Adrian (48.23). However, this race has shown such volatility over the past few years; a different man has led the world rankings every year since 2006. The places in this event will be once again scrambled in the year to come, much to the relief of American fans, but I’m not so sure about the winner.

James Magnussen made his first international impact at the Commonwealth Games, where he anchored Australia’s 400 free relay team to gold with a 48.57 split. Not long after, he won Australia’s 100 free national title in 48.29. Despite a bout of pneumonia shortly before Worlds, he still managed to drop 47s in the 100 free three times this week; in the past year and a half, only one other man has broken the barrier. And on top of all this, he is just 20 years old. In a traditionally age-dominated race, he has nearly unlimited potential.

Lochte and Magnussen made headlines today, but another swimmer made jaws drop worldwide. In the women’s 50 back, Russia’s Anastasia Zueva made up for so many close calls to win her first world title, while Japan’s Aya Terakawa made up for a disappointing fifth-place finish in the 100 back with a silver medal. Meanwhile, American Missy Franklin snuck in for a surprise bronze medal, clocking 28.01. But she wasn’t close to being done; after leading off Team USA’s 800 free relay in prelims in a personal-best time of 1:56.98, she returned in finals to clock 1:55.06 on the lead-off leg. Not only did Franklin cut 2.5 seconds off her lifetime best in a day, but she missed the American record by a mere tenth, coming up just shy of the two year old mark of 1:54.96 that Allison Schmitt clocked in a polyurethane suit. Moreover, she became the fifth-fastest swimmer of all time in the event!

Franklin carried the American team to the win, as Dagny Knutson, Katie Hoff, and Allison Schmitt comfortably held off teams from Australia and China. Ironically, Franklin did not even qualify for this relay in the first place! She clocked 1:59.17 to finish tenth at Nationals last summer. Now, however, things have changed. Already with one medal of each color, Franklin heads into her signature 200 back as a newly-minted favorite. Her best time right now is 2:07.96, set back in March. At this point, breaking Margaret Hoelzer’s American record of 2:06.09 in route to a gold medal could not be considered a surprise.

Additionally, it looks like she’ll anchor the American medley relay, a team which is an easy choice for gold after strong individual performances from Natalie Coughlin (back), Rebecca Soni (breast), and Dana Vollmer. Franklin popped a 52.99 leg on the 400 free relay on the way to a silver medal there; no American has ever bested that split in a textile suit. As Peter Busch said on today’s Morning Swim Show, her performances today in Shanghai officially completed her transition from “star” to “superstar.”

In tomorrow’s prelims (or tonight’s, depending on where you are), we will see the opening rounds of six different events. To start things off, Cesar Cielo and Nathan Adrian will attempt to make up for disappointing performances in the men’s 100 free with medal runs in the 50, but they will have to fend off a tough Frenchman named Fred Bousquet, the first man to break 21 seconds. Meanwhile, 100 fly gold medalist Dana Vollmer takes on veteran Therese Alshammar in the 50 fly. Michael Phelps returns to water for the 100 fly, an event in which he has recently dominated, while perennial silver medalist Milorad Cavic has aims on making up for a lackluster 50 fly.

Franklin takes to the blocks in the women’s 200 back against double Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry, 100 back champion Zhao Jing, and a tough, wide open field. American Elizabeth Beisel won bronze in the event in 2009, while Australians Meagan Nay and Belinda Hocking have both impressed in the event thus far this year. American Chloe Sutton will try to rebound from a pair of ninth-place finishes in the 400 and 1500 free when she swims the 800, while Rebecca Adlington, Lotte Friis, and Kate Ziegler should battle for gold.

Looks like a two-person race in the prediction contest. Will I be able to retake the lead from challenger Matt Salzberg?

1. Matt Salzberg 208
2. David Rieder 202
3. Melissa German 187
4. Chris DeSantis 182
5. John Liu 179
6. Kristine Sorenson 178
7. Braden Keith 178
8. John Lohn 160
9. Jerry Shandrew 148
10. Tom Willdridge 142
11. Sebastian Schwenke 132

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Four

At this halfway point of the 2011 World Championships, I need to start this blog with an apology. I received a prediction submission from John Liu, more commonly known as “John26” in comment sections on various blogs. However, his predictions did not end up on the spreadsheet I am using to score the contest until I realized my mistake today. Naturally, John’s picks will be considered in the prediction contest from this point on, and we now have eleven competitors. You can check out a copy of that spreadsheet here, and these are the scores after four days and 17 finals. In the lead, as expected, is the swim geek!

1. David Rieder 171
2. Matt Salzberg 167
3. Chris DeSantis 161
4. Kristine Sorenson 155
5. John Liu 152
6. Melissa German 151
7. Braden Keith 142
8. John Lohn 130
9. Jerry Shandrew 119
10. Tom Willdridge 114
11. Sebastian Schwenke 109

Now, onto the action we saw today in Shanghai. Federica Pellegrini won yet another world title in a race in which the three leaders at the halfway mark fell back to the bottom three places. Sun Yang, subject of all the hype of the swimming world coming into the meet, finally won his first world title, while the distance dominator of recent years, Ous Mellouli, fell out of the medals in a disappointing race (more on that before the 1500). Felipe Silva showed why semi-final times do not decide gold medalists whilst bringing a storm with a controversial dolphin kick on the finish. And Michael Phelps reminded everyone, especially Takeshi Matsuda and Wu Peng, that he indeed is Michael Phelps.

After getting through a recap in record time, I’ll take a look at the finals on tap for tomorrow in Shanghai. It all begins with the men’s 200 IM, another showdown between Phelps and Lochte, Lochte and Phelps. I think Phelps goes out hard, just like he has already in the 200 free and 200 fly and takes a lead on Lochte down the first lap, but Lochte will stick to him on back and spring ahead on breast. Phelps’ middle strokes do look better than last year, so I think he’ll finish in the 1:54-range, but Lochte will break the world record and take down the 1:54 barrier. Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh is the third qualifier for the final, but he looked like he expended a lot of energy in his semi-final. Likewise, Brazil’s Thiago Pereira will really hurt down the last lap of the race, leaving an opening for Austria’s Markus Rogan.

1. Lochte
2. Phelps
3. Rogan

Up next, the big men take to the blocks for the final of the 100 free. Brazil’s Cesar Cielo is the defending champion and world record-holder, but his confidence and expectations seem relatively low. He did not beat his season-best time in the 50 fly, and thus I do not know if he can improve on the 48.26 he swam at the Paris Open. Australia’s James Magnussen led off the 400 free relay in 47.49, and he is the favorite for gold with a monster back half. American Nathan Adrian qualified second behind Magnussen, 47.90 to 48.05, and he probably has the best shot to stay with the young Aussie. Don’t sleep on 2007 World Champ Brent Hayden or 2010 Short Course Worlds silver medalist Fabien Gilot.

1. Magnussen
2. Adrian
3. Cielo

Little more than a second separates the finalists in the women’s 200 fly, and I think almost any of the eight could touch the wall first. British swimmers Jemma Lowe and Ellen Gandy won their respective semi-final heats, but I think China’s Olympic champion, Liu Zige, has another gear after losing some ground on the back half in the semi-final. Look for Liu and teammate Jiao Liuyang to go out fast and try to hang on. The field consists of two Brits, two Chinese, and two Aussies, including triple Olympic champion Stephanie Rice and two-time defending World Champ Jessicah Schipper.

1. Liu
2. Lowe
3. Schipper

The women’s 50 back is even more wide open than the aforementioned 200 fly, and I would not be surprised at all to see any of the eight swimmers in the field take the gold. Russia’s Anastasia Zueva is the top seed, and she will be hungry after missing gold in the 100 back by just one one-hundredth of a second. China’s Zhao Jing, who won that 100 back and won the 50 back at the Worlds in Rome, opted not to compete in the 50 this time around. Teammate Gao Chang has twice before won medals at Worlds but never gold. Japan’s Aya Terakawa entered the meet as a medal favorite in both the 50 and 100 back but underperformed in the 100. Belarus’ Aliaksandra Herasimenia once tied the world record in this event, while American teenage sensation Missy Franklin will aim for a medal here in preparation for her big event, the 200 back.

1. Zueva
2. Herasimenia
3. Terakawa

The Australians look like the team to beat in the women’s 800 free relay after Kylie Palmer won silver in the individual 200 free, and teammate Bronte Barratt also made the final. The deciding factors will be how their younger and inexperienced teammates step up. The Americans will look to veterans Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer to lead the team, while youngsters Dagny Knutson and potentially Missy Franklin will join the team in the quest to improve on the silver they won at the 2009 Worlds. Disappointing swims by Katie Hoff and Morgan Scroggy have thrown this relay’s potential into doubt. And finally, there are the defending World Champions, the Chinese. Although none of the entries into the individual 200 free performed well, China has a tendency to step up their game in this relay. With the British and Hungarian teams underperforming and France lacking a fourth strong leg, I don’t think anyone can touch the top-three; the only question is order of finish.

1. Australia
2. United States
3. China

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Three

All year, the swim geeks of the world have hyped the men’s 200 free as the race of the World Championships. There was the superstar and his perpetual challenger. The world record-holder and his young Russian and French rivals were in the field. And on top of that, another man started the final as the odds-on favorite; after winning the 400 free in dominating fashion on the meet’s first night, South Korea’s Tae Hwan Park had a strong chance to do one better than the silver medal he won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Meanwhile, many questioned whether the aforementioned superstar, none other than Michael Phelps, even had a chance to medal.

The two Americans took the race out from the start, and Phelps led for the first half of the race. But off the second wall, Ryan Lochte showed his superiority, dominating that lap and holding off Phelps for the world title. Lochte posted a personal best time of 1:44.44, crushing his old mark of 1:45.30 set in winning the Pan Pacific Championships last year. In textile suits, Lochte is now the third-fastest swimmer in history, trailing just Phelps and Aussie great Ian Thorpe. Phelps, meanwhile, touched at 1:44.79, his second-fastest time ever in a textile suit behind the 1:43.86 he clocked at the 2007 World Championships to wipe Thorpe’s name from the record books.

In a tight scramble to the wall behind Lochte, Phelps barely out-touched Germany’s Paul Biedermann (1:44.88) and Park (1:44.92), with France’s Yannick Agnel finishing fifth in 1:44.99. Going into the race, China’s Sun Yang had held the world’s top time at 1:44.99, so six men have broken the 1:45 mark this year for the first time ever! Yep, even with the high tech suits, no more than five men have ever broken 1:45 in a year. In 2009, Biedermann, Phelps, Russia’s Danila Izotov, and Americans Ricky Berens and Dave Walters broke the barrier, and other than that, never more than two in one year have done so. While the top-end speed seen with the suits – such as Biedermann’s 1:42.00 world record – is gone, the hype and pressure have pushed this event to new, never-before-seen heights in depth. All of this cumulated in one of them most exciting races I’ve ever seen.

To be honest, the rest of today’s races were very predictable; in fact, I predicted all four of the remaining winners in my original predictions last week. All that I took away was more good news for the American medley relays. In the men’s 100 back, Nick Thoman and David Plummer recorded respective times of 53.01 and 53.04, not far away from Frenchmen Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius, who tied for gold in 52.76. Some had predicted a French lead of a second on the backstroke lead on the medley relay on their way to a potential gold. Now, with a clear American advantage on fly and even breast and staying close enough on back, the chance of a French upset is quickly diminishing.

On a related note, France now faces a dilemma as to which backstroker to use on the lead-off for the medley relay after today’s tie. While conventional wisdom would say to use Lacourt on that leg, I believe Stravius is the best bet. On the final night of competition, Lacourt will swim the 50 back final, where he is the big favorite after posting a time of 24.07 in 2010, just 0.03 off the world record. Stravius, meanwhile, is far less likely to make the final of that event. If, as I expect, Lacourt is the only Frenchmen in that final, France would be doing a disservice to their team by using Lacourt for the second time in the session.

For the women, Rebecca Soni clocked a relatively pedestrian time of 1:05.05 for gold in the 100 breast. Many had predicted a world record (1:04.45) or at least an improvement over her semi-final time of 1:04.91, but she now holds the top-seven times recorded in the 100 breast this year. Still, it didn’t matter; Soni defeated Olympic gold medalist Leisel Jones by 1.20 seconds, as Jones came in second at 1:06.25. China’s Ji Liping hit the wall at 1:06.52 for third. Soni has established a clear lead on the Aussies and Chinese in breast, a huge boost for the U.S. medley relay. With Natalie Coughlin showing her ability to at the very least stay within a tenth or two of her competition in the 100 back and Dana Vollmer winning the 100 fly, the American women look pretty golden right now as well.

Four more finals await us tomorrow, including Michael Phelps in his best event, the 200 fly. Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda and China’s Chen Yin qualified ahead of Phelps, but Phelps noticeably turned off the gas the last lap of his semi-final swim and had a terrible finish. I think Phelps turns it on tomorrow and crush his competition from the start. Matsuda is the easy favorite for silver, but I think almost anyone in the final could grab one of the minor medals.

1. Phelps
2. Matsuda
3. Jukic

Dutchwoman Femke Heemskerk obliterated the field in the semi-finals of the women’s 200 free by nearly a second, but she tends to be inconsistent in her 200 swims, and I don’t know if she can improve upon the 1:55.54 she swam already. Defending champion Federica Pellegrini qualified second in 1:56.42, while defending silver medalist Allison Schmitt finished at the back of a tight seven-woman pack in 1:57.07, after clocking 1:56.66 in prelims. Look for a big improvement by both swimmers tomorrow, while 400 free bronze medalist Camille Muffat has staked her claim as a contender as well.

1. Pellegrini
2. Heemskerk
3. Schmitt

China’s Sun Yang led the way in the men’s 800 free prelims, while Pal Joensen of the Faroe Islands held off Canada’s Ryan Cochrane for the second seed, with all three recording 7:45 splits. Both really pushed each other down the stretch, giving the indication that these two expended more energy than some of the other competitors. Ous Mellouli has the top credentials of all the finalists, as he is the World and Olympic champion in the 1500 and defending silver medalist in the 800. Americans Peter Vanderkaay and Chad La Tourette both made the final and will swim from lanes 7 and 8, respectively. They could chase Larsen Jensen’s American record of 7:45.63 set back in 2005.

1. Sun
2. Mellouli
3. Cochrane

South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh and Brazil’s Felipe Silva set themselves up as the men to beat in the 50 breast final with sub-27 performances in the semi-final. The pair finished 1-2 at both the last Worlds in Rome and also the Short Course Worlds in Dubai; van der Burgh beat Silva in Rome, while the Brazilian turned the tables in December in Dubai. The race for the medals should be tight, and I could see Italy’s Fabio Scozolli or Norway’s Alexander Dale Oen move up into the top-two. However, I will stick with my original prediction.

1. van der Burgh
2. Silva
3. Scozolli

Should be another great day of action in Shanghai on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the results of the prediction contest are coming in quickly, and we have a new leader after three days of competition. Still a tight race though.

1. Matt Salzberg 129
2. David Rieder 126
3. Chris DeSantis 117
4. Kristine Sorenson 115
5. Melissa German 103
6. Braden Keith 101
7. John Lohn 93
8. Jerry Shandrew 83
9. Sebastian Schwenke 78
10. Tom Willdridge 77

Monday, July 25, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Three Finals Predictions

Five finals await the world on a packed Day 3 of competition in Shanghai. Having already discussed what transpired on the first two days of action, here is my take on what is to come on Tuesday and some updated predictions regarding the action. Without further ado, here goes.

The hardest race to predict of the five is the first, the men’s 200 free. France’s Yannick Agnel leads the way, followed closely by the German defending champion Paul Biedermann. Americans Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps bracket 400 free champion Park Tae Hwan, and the medals will stay between those five swimmers. Olympic gold medalist Phelps really cruised through the middle 100 of his semi-final swim, but I just don’t know if he’s in good enough shape to get this title back. Biedermann has looked better than I expected here, and a German gold here would not surprise me like it would have a week ago. Park did not swim as fast as many predicted in the 400 free, but again, he has the speed to be ready to go here. But I will predict Lochte to win gold. He looked sharp in the semi-final, and although Biedermann did out-touch him, he had the win before putting the race on cruise control 10 meters from the wall.

1. Lochte
2. Park
3. Phelps

I originally predicted China’s Zhao Jing to win the women’s 100 back, ahead of Japan’s Aya Terakawa and the United States’ Natalie Coughlin. However, Zhao has not looked especially sharp through the first few rounds, and Terakawa barely qualified for the final in eighth, while Coughlin cruised to the top qualifying position. The race is tight through to the final and will be once again tomorrow, but she has a tendency to get her fingertips on the wall just in time, as she has done in the last two Olympic races. I pick Coughlin to win her third career World title in the 100 back tomorrow.

1. Coughlin
2. Zhao
3. Zueva

The women’s 1500 free comes next, perhaps the most open race of the night. Lotte Friis leads the way in 16:00.47, but the prelims were fast and tight. In reality, any of the eight finalists could win a gold medal tomorrow. Friis won the 800 free at the 2009 Worlds in Rome after finishing second in the 1500, Kate Ziegler of the U.S. holds the world record at 15:42.54, having obliterated Janet Evans’ 19 year old mark back in 2007. Ziegler, the 2005 and 2007 champion in this event, finished second to Friis in their heat on Monday morning in 16:02.53 for the third-ranked qualifying time overall. Australian Melissa Gorman defeated Ziegler to take the 1500 crown at Pan Pacs last summer, and Gorman is already a London Olympian, having qualified in the 10k Open Water last week. Perhaps the most surprising prelim swim came from Shao Yiwen, who clocked a Chinese record time of 16:01.72 to finish second.

1. Friis
2. Ziegler
3. Shao

France’s Jeremy Stravius led all qualifiers in the 100 back semi-finals, clocking 52.76 to break 53 for the first time in his career. However, his countryman Camille Lacourt is the favorite for gold, having swum 52.11, not far from Aaron Peirsol’s world record of 51.94, to win the European title last year. I don’t think Lacourt will quite get to Peirsol’s mark in the final, but he should win gold. Stravius will battle for the silver medal with Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, and I predict American David Plummer to get in on all the fun to grab a medal. The race for the top will be tight with Plummer’s teammate Nick Thoman and Britain’s Liam Tancock and Germany’s Helge Meeuw, both previous medalists in this event. I do not expect New Zealand’s Gareth Kean to be a factor.

1. Lacourt
2. Stravius
3. Plummer

I am not making a bold prediction in picking American Rebecca Soni to win the women’s 100 breast. She has led prelims and semi-finals by more than a second and a half each time. Her semi-final time of 1:04.91 and her prelim time of 1:05.54 are the two fastest times in the world this year, respectively. Already, Soni holds the top-six times swum in 2011! The big question is can she approach the world record? Jessica Hardy clocked that 1:04.45 back in 2009, but I don’t think Soni has quite enough to break the record in Shanghai. Maybe next year in London. Leisel Jones, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, qualified second in 1:06.66; she will be much faster in the final, but I still don’t see her approaching Jones. Defending silver medalist and European champion Yuliya Efimova and Chinese swimmers Ji Liping and Sun Ye look like challengers for a bronze.

1. Soni
2. Jones
3. Ji

Looks like another great finals session tomorrow from China, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Two world records (men’s 100 back and women’s 100 breast) will be on watch, and I see swimmers approaching but not beating these times. Not to worry; world records will be set later on this week.

Finally, I will share the results of my prediction contest after two days of action. Looks like a good competitive battle going on, but I think we all remember who is the swim geek! You can view all the prediction entries here.

1. David Rieder 78
2. Matt Salzberg 77
3. Kristine Sorenson 68
4. Chris DeSantis 64
5. John Lohn 62
6. Braden Keith 60
7. Jerry Shandrew 54
8. Melissa German 53
9. Sebastian Schwenke 44
10. Tom Willdridge 43

Shanghai 2011: Days One and Two

We are one-fourth of the way through the pool events at the World Championships in Shanghai, and we have seen exciting races and surprising finishes already. From Dana Vollmer’s fireworks in the 100 fly and the surprisingly slow and back-and-forth men’s 400 free to the myriad of reactions upon the conclusion of the men’s 50 fly and Alexander Dale Oen’s emotional win in the men’s 100 breast, the meet has been unpredictable, exciting, and fast. Today, I will take a look at some of my favorite races thus far and preview tomorrow’s finals action in Shanghai.

The first final of the meet was the men’s 400 free. In the lead-up, swim blogs had been bursting with predictions of Sun Yang breaking Paul Biedermann’s suit-aided world record of 3:40.07 set back in 2009. Meanwhile, Olympic champion Tae Hwan Park had gone from a co-favorite to probable bridesmaid over the last few months. The event’s prelims did not change the scene; only Sun broke 3:45, while Park snuck into the final in seventh. From there, Park set the pace, only to be caught at the 200 mark. At the 250, France’s Yannick Agnel had the lead, followed by Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli and Canada’s Ryan Cochrane. However, at that point, things changed.

On the sixth of eight laps, Park stormed ahead once again and moved into a position where no one could touch him. Meanwhile, Sun and Biedermann raced past the three leaders at the 250 to earn the minor spoils, respectively, while American Peter Vanderkaay put on an impressive show to finish in fourth place. In the end, all of the finalists recorded slower times than I had expected with the exceptions of Biedermann and Vanderkaay.

What did we learn in this crazy, surprisingly slow final? The veterans will come through when they need to. Many had counted out Park for the gold after Sun’s impressive performances in the lead-up, but once again, the Olympic champ and 2007 World Champ came through. After disappointing performances in 2010, many people expected very little from Biedermann and Vanderkaay – no one in my prediction contest picked either to finish on the medal stand, while choosing Mellouli and Agnel instead – but both veterans came through on the major stage as they have before.

While the women’s 400 free relay held to form as a duel between the U.S. and the Netherlands, with the favored Dutch coming out on top, the men’s relay went convoluted. Everyone talked about America and France, France and the United States. A few people said that Australia, led by rising star James Magnussen, could make a dent, but these predictions quieted when Magnussen revealed he had pneumonia. Apparently, though, pneumonia is the best way to taper. The Aussie busted out a 47.49 lead-off leg, the fastest time ever recorded in a textile suit, to make him history’s eighth-fastest performer. Matt Targett, Matt Abood, and Eamon Sullivan did the job on the back, holding off France and the U.S. for the gold.

So what does this mean? First off, Magnussen is the real deal. Hyped after clocking 48.29 back in March, he now has a legitimate shot to knock off the likes of Cesar Cielo, Brent Hayden, and Nathan Adrian in the 100 free to become the next great in the event. While Magnussen is not as sharp in races shorter than 100, he won Australia’s Short Course Nationals in the 200 free in 1:44.12, so at the very least he could add a punch to the Aussies’ ever-improving 800 free relay. More importantly, with the likes of Ian Thorpe on the comeback trail with the goal of making this 400 free relay team, the competition Down Under is fierce, and this relay has upwards potential. If they want to have a chance of defending their Olympic title next year, the American team will need to rely on the same kind of competition to get on this relay to push them back over the top.

Cesar Cielo won the men’s 50 fly today, followed by Australians Matt Targett and Geoff Huegill. Cielo, whose participation in this meet was up in the air as recently as last Friday, displayed his typical reaction full of tears, while former Auburn teammate Targett looked not totally satisfied after winning his second straight silver in the event. Huegill, meanwhile, looked simply thrilled. His comeback story has been well publicized, and this meet is just another stepping stone to his final goal of next year’s London Olympics. Huegill won the first 50 butterfly title at the World Championships back in 2001, but standing on the podium once more brings things full circle for him. He knows and appreciates the sport more than anyone else out there; hence the reaction to what wasn’t even a great time for him. Hence the reason that Geoff Huegill is one of my favorite swimmers in the world.

Going into the final of the men’s 100 breast, most foresaw a duel between Japan’s double defending Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima and Norway’s two-time European champion Alexander Dale Oen. Many also thought defending world champion Brenton Rickard was a favorite for a medal. In the 50 breast, however, most predicted a completely different slate of medal contenders, including South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh, Brazil’s Felipe Silva, Germany’s Hendrik Feldwehr, and Italy’s Fabio Scozolli. No one picked any of these four in the 100 breast.

Dale Oen won the 100 breast in 58.71, but neither Kitajima nor Rickard got under the 1:00 barrier; instead Scozolli and van der Burgh won the other medals with respective times of 59.42 and 59.49. Moreover, Dale Oen’s clocked a 27.20 split at the halfway point, the top time in the world this year in the 50 breast. Now, it looks more and more likely that the same three could medal in the 50 breast. While swimmers medaling in the 50 and 100 breast events have been very common, the landscape of the events has suddenly changed to where the meet could end with more double medalists than anticipated.

American Mark Gangloff posted a swift time of 1:00.19 in the semi-final of the 100 breast to make the final, where he finished eighth. The American men’s medley relay has been viewed a vulnerable to the French as of late, in part due to America’s weakness in the breast. However, with Gangloff beating Frenchman Hughes Duboscq (who did not make the final) and Eric Shanteau reportedly swimming a fast 100 breast time trial, that leg appears to be taken care of. Meanwhile, the other 100-meter final contested today, the women’s 100 fly, showed much more how the women’s medley relay will play out. Dana Vollmer clocked 56.47 in the semi-final, while Australian Alicia Coutts and China’s Lu Ying never approached that time. Moreover, Coutts might end up swimming freestyle on that relay, and fellow Aussie Jessicah Schipper finished even further back in the pack. American strength seems assured on fly.

More to come today, including my preview of the finals to be contested on Tuesday in Shanghai and some updated predictions, along with the results of my prediction contest after two days of action.

Genuine joy from Geoff Huegill upon returning to the medal podium in the 50 fly in Shanghai after a decade-long hiatus.
Picture: Michael Sohn Source: AP

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Day Two Finals Predictions

I know that I have not yet shared my swim-geeking about these FINA World Championships in Shanghai, and I deeply apologize to the hoard of you who sat at your computers all day waiting for my blog. I have spent the weekend at my State Championship meet, swimming fast (though certainly not nearly as fast as the swimmers I am writing about). I did not even get a chance to watch most of this morning/last night’s finals live! But don’t worry; I will be up to watch live tomorrow morning, and then I’ll share my full thoughts on both sessions of finals. The lack of sleep combined with the lactic acid from my last race going to my head (yes, I skimped on warm-down) will cause me deliria tomorrow, but who cares?

This morning, we saw two very different results from two defending champions in the two women’s 100-meter races. One of them blasted the fastest time in the world to lead qualifiers by a second and a half. A loss in this race would be a monumental upset. The other, sick with food poisoning this weekend, finished 23rd in a time nearly four seconds slower than world record that she set in Rome in 2009. Such is the nature of our sport and the results that Rebecca Soni and Gemma Spofforth achieved today, respectively. Oh how drastically things can change in just two years. That said, wishing the best to Spofforth down the line.

Meanwhile, some updated predictions for finals:

Women’s 100 Fly
1. Dana Vollmer
2. Sarah Sjostrum
3. Alicia Coutts
*Vollmer looks too good to be stopped.

Men’s 50 Fly
1. Cesar Cielo
2. Geoff Huegill
3. Matt Targett
*Expect some outsider smoke from Targett and Fred Bousquet.

Women’s 200 IM
1. Yi Shiwen
2. Ariana Kukors
3. Stephanie Rice
*Top three looks solid but really could go in any order. Sticking with my original pick.

Men’s 100 Breast
1. Alexander Dale Oen
2. Kosuke Kitajima
3. Brenton Rickard
*Standing by my same top-three as before; they’ve done nothing to change my mind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Predictions, Part Four

We are less than one week away from the start of pool swimming at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Instead of discussing storylines headed into the meet as I so often do, I decided instead to post my predictions in four parts, and under each prediction, I included some of my thoughts headed in to the meet. While in many cases this meet is much more straightforward in predicting than a national-level meet, there is more opportunity for a swimmer to come out of the woodwork to win a medal. So we will see how this goes. This final round of predictions includes the men’s freestyle, IM, and relay events. You can find my predictions for women’s events here and here, and the first part of my men’s predictions, including backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly events, here.

Note: With the decision as to whether Cesar Cielo can compete in the World Championships still looming, I have included four places in his events. If he is not allowed to compete, the second-place finisher moves up to gold.

50 Free
1. Cesar Cielo, Brazil
2. Fred Bousquet, France
3. Nathan Adrian, USA
4. Andriy Govorov, Ukraine
*If he gets to compete, Cielo will show that he is truly a dominant force in the one-lapper. The top-three are clear of the rest of the world. Darkhorse pick for fourth.

100 Free
1. Nathan Adrian, USA
2. Cesar Cielo, Brazil
3. Brent Hayden, Canada
4. Fabien Gilot, France
*Cielo goes out quickly and forces the pace, but Adrian motors down the stretch and edges his Brazilian rival.

200 Free
1. Michael Phelps, USA
2. Ryan Lochte, USA
3. Tae Hwan Park, Korea
*Could go a lot of different ways among the top three, but I predict strong underwater work is the difference-maker for the Americans ahead of the Korean superstar.

400 Free
1. Tae Hwan Park, Korea
2. Sun Yang, China
3. Ous Mellouli, Tunisia
*Park goes out fast and stays ahead of the Chinese distance sensation for the entire race. Mellouli is too powerful for the rest of the field.

800 Free
1. Sun Yang, China
2. Ous Mellouli, Tunisia
3. Ryan Cochrane, Canada
*Sun Yang wins first of two golds over Mellouli, while bronze is somewhat open. Americans LaTourette and Vanderkaay should both be in the final.

1500 Free
1. Sun Yang, China
2. Ous Mellouli, Tunisia
3. Ryan Cochrane, Canada
*Mellouli won’t go down without a fight, but Sun Yang has been on fire for the past 12 months. Top-three looks solid here.

200 IM
1. Ryan Lochte, USA
2. Michael Phelps, USA
3. Thiago Pereira, Brazil
*Lochte takes the lead on breaststroke and never looks back as he cracks into the 1:53 range for the first time. Pereira finally earns a medal after many fourth-place finishes.

400 IM
1. Ryan Lochte, USA
2. Tyler Clary, USA
3. Laszlo Cseh, Hungary
*At the end of his program, Lochte should still have enough to hold off a strong charge from the rising medley superstar Clary.

4x100 Free Relay
1. United States
2. France
3. Russia
*Americans have the speed, depth, and mental advantage needed to take this one.

4x200 Free Relay
1. United States
2. Russia
3. China
*Maybe the Americans can get under 7:00 for the first time in textile. Sun Yang and Zhang Lin lead the new Chinese threat in this event.

4x100 Medley Relay
1. United States
2. France
3. Australia
*Despite weakness early on, Michael Phelps puts the Americans into a strong lead with his fly leg, enough for the win. Look for Germany to make a strong push for the medals as well, while Japan will be in the mix until freestyle.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Predictions, Part Three

We are less than one week away from the start of pool swimming at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Instead of discussing storylines headed into the meet as I so often do, I decided instead to post my predictions in four parts, and under each prediction, I included some of my thoughts headed in to the meet. While in many cases this meet is much more straightforward in predicting than a national-level meet, there is more opportunity for a swimmer to come out of the woodwork to win a medal. So we will see how this goes. This third round of predictions includes the men’s backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly. You can find my predictions for women’s events here and here, and I will post my final predictions tomorrow.

Note: With the decision as to whether Cesar Cielo can compete in the World Championships still looming, I have included four places in his events. If he is not allowed to compete, the second-place finisher moves up to gold.

50 Back
1. Camille Lacourt, France
2. Liam Tancock, Great Britain
3. Junya Koga, Japan
*These three have the most raw backstroke speed of anyone in the field. Lacourt barely missed Tancock’s world record (24.07) last year.

100 Back
1. Camille Lacourt, France
2. Ryosuke Irie, Japan
3. David Plummer, USA
*Lacourt should threaten Aaron Peirsol’s world record of 51.94. Plummer is ready to break onto the big stage.

200 Back
1. Ryan Lochte, USA
2. Ryosuke Irie, Japan
3. Tyler Clary, USA
*When the Florida taper kicks in, Lochte will be ready to reclaim his world title from 2007. Clary looming stronger and stronger.

50 Breast
1. Cameron van der Burgh, South Africa
2. Felipe Silva, Brazil
3. Fabio Scozolli, Italy
*Silva upset van der Burgh at the World Short Course Championships, but I don’t think it happens again.

100 Breast
1. Alexander Dale Oen, Norway
2. Kosuke Kitajima, Japan
3. Brenton Rickard, Australia
*These three stand above the rest of the field. Dale Oen is ready to get by the man who beat him in the Olympic final.

200 Breast
1. Naoya Tomita, Japan
2. Kosuke Kitajima, Japan
3. Daniel Gyurta, Hungary
*Top-three looks safe, but order could go a lot of ways. Eric Shanteau has a chance to earn a podium position as well.

50 Fly
1. Cesar Cielo, Brazil
2. Matt Targett, Australia
3. Milorad Cavic, Serbia
4. Steffen Deibler, Germany
*If allowed to compete, Cielo’s raw speed earns him the win here. Targett is always a force in the 50 fly.

100 Fly
1. Michael Phelps, USA
2. Milorad Cavic, Serbia
3. Takuro Fujii, Japan
*Phelps won’t be challenged in this one. However, wide open behind him.

200 Fly
1. Michael Phelps, USA
2. Takeshi Matsuda, Japan
3. Wu Peng, China
*Phelps has dropped a few 200 flys this year, but he will be ready to step it up when it counts. Look for a 1:52.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Predictions, Part Two

We are less than one week away from the start of pool swimming at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Instead of discussing storylines headed into the meet as I so often do, I decided instead to post my predictions in four parts, and under each prediction, I included some of my thoughts headed in to the meet. While in many cases this meet is much more straightforward in predicting than a national-level meet, there is more opportunity for a swimmer to come out of the woodwork to win a medal. So we will see how this goes. This second round of predictions includes the women’s breaststroke, butterfly, and relay events. You can find my predictions for the women’s freestyle, backstroke, and IM events here, and I will post my men’s predictions tomorrow and Wednesday.

50 Breast
1. Jessica Hardy, USA
2. Yulia Efimova, Russia
3. Rebecca Soni, USA
*Hardy previously won the 2007 World Champs in this event, while Efimova and Soni went 1-2 in 2009 in Hardy’s absence.

100 Breast
1. Rebecca Soni, USA
2. Leisel Jones, Australia
3. Yulia Efimova, Russia
*Soni continues her dominance of this race and challenges the world record (1:04.45).

200 Breast
1. Rebecca Soni, USA
2. Annamay Pierse, Canada
3. Yulia Efimova, Russia
*Can Soni finally track down Pierse’s world record of 2:20.12?

50 Fly
1. Therese Alshammar, Sweden
2. Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden
3. Marieke Guehrer, Australia
*Alshammar has been unstoppable since her loss to Guehrer in the final two years ago.

100 Fly
1. Sarah Sjostrom, Sweden
2. Dana Vollmer, USA
3. Liu Zige, China
*Home favorite edges Aussie Alicia Coutts off the podium as Sjostrom repeats her world title from two years ago by going under 57.

200 Fly
1. Liu Zige, China
2. Jiao Liuyang, China
3. Katinka Hosszu, Hungary
*Just like they did at the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese dominate at home.

4x100 Free Relay
1. Netherlands
2. United States
3. Australia
*The Dutch have a killer foursome, but Americans’ depth could bring them within striking distance.

4x200 Free Relay
1. United States
2. China
3. Australia
*The Aussies have posted some fast swims this year, but my gut says that Americans and Chinese will step up here. Missy Franklin could be the X-factor for the Americans.

4x100 Medley Relay
1. United States
2. China
3. Australia
*The Americans have star power in all four strokes. Addition of Missy Franklin for backstroke could bring this team over the top.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Shanghai 2011: Predictions, Part One

We are just one week away from the start of pool swimming at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Instead of discussing storylines headed into the meet as I so often do, I decided instead to post my predictions in four parts, and under each prediction, I included some of my thoughts headed in to the meet. While in many cases this meet is much more straightforward in predicting than a national-level meet, there is more opportunity for a swimmer to come out of the woodwork to win a medal. So we will see how this goes. This first round of predictions includes the women’s freestyle, backstroke, and IM events. Look for the remaining women’s predictions tomorrow, followed by the men’s on Tuesday and Wednesday.

50 Free
1. Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Netherlands
2. Britta Steffen, Germany
3. Therese Alshammar, Sweden
*Young Dutch superstar takes the win ahead of two veterans.

100 Free
1. Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Netherlands
2. Fran Halsall, Great Britain
3. Natalie Coughlin, USA
*Coughlin holds off Femke Heemskerk for a surprise third-place finish.

200 Free
1. Federica Pellegrini, Italy
2. Allison Schmitt, USA
3. Camille Muffat, France
*Schmitt continues her run as second-best in this event and pushes Pellegrini all the way.

400 Free
1. Rebecca Adlington, Great Britain
2. Federica Pellegrini, Italy
3. Camille Muffat, France
*Olympic champion takes the field on the final 75 meters. Americans Sutton and Hoff have serious medal potential.

800 Free
1. Rebecca Adlington, Great Britain
2. Chloe Sutton, USA
3. Kate Ziegler, USA
*Should be a strong win for Adlington, with the Americans having strong challenges from Shao Yiwen, Katie Goldman, and Lotte Friis for the medals.

1500 Free
1. Lotte Friis, Denmark
2. Chloe Sutton, USA
3. Keri-Anne Payne, Great Britain
*Wide open race. Look for Kristel Kobrich, Melissa German, and Li Xuanxu to push.

50 Back
1. Aya Terakawa, Japan
2. Anastasia Zueva, Russia
3. Gao Chang, China
*Terakawa has dominated the sprint back all year on the international stage, but this could really be a toss-up.

100 Back
1. Zhao Jing, China
2. Aya Terakawa, Japan
3. Natalie Coughlin, USA
*Defending champion Gemma Spofforth could push, but these three should stand above.

200 Back
1. Kirsty Coventry, Zimbabwe
2. Zhao Jing, China
3. Missy Franklin, USA
*Olympic champion prevails in tight race with Chinese threat. Franklin shows off the results of her superb season.

200 IM
1. Yi Shiwen, China
2. Ariana Kukors, USA
3. Stephanie Rice, Australia
*Give an edge to these three for podium spots since Alicia Coutts also swims the 100 fly final earlier that session.

400 IM
1. Yi Shiwen, China
2. Stephanie Rice, Australia
3. Hannah Miley, Great Britain
*American Elizabeth Beisel will be dangerously close to a medal, and defending champion Katinka Hosszu could be a factor as well.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

World Championships, Eleven Days Out

It has been far too long since I last sat down to write a swimming blog. In the past month and a half, fast swims have come from all corners of the globe, but I have not felt like I had anything to add to the already-outstanding coverage coming from the established sources and other blogs. However, with World Championships just days away, it is hard to contain a swim geek’s excitement. Storylines such as Cesar Cielo’s possible suspension, the Phelps-Lochte showdowns, and the rise of Sun Yang are currently being talked about on every other outlet. Thus, in this blog, I will discuss some of the not-much-talked-about storylines headed into the big show. Additionally, I am pleased to announce I will once again hold a prediction contest for the World Championships!

After successful prediction contest for U.S. Nationals and Pan Pacific Championships last summer, I will once again ask for all the swim geeks out there to submit their top-three swimmers in every event. I have already informed a number of the participants in my recent contests with hopes that we can get many more than ever before! Scoring will be based on the system I used last year with a couple adjustments; picking the correct first place finisher earns nine points, six points for second, and four points for third. A swimmer that finishes in the top-three but not in the predicted spot earns one point.

The contest will include all pool events, including relays and non-Olympic events. I included the Open Water 10k last summer, but predicting all the Open Water races would be much tougher and also would require a much earlier deadline. As of Wednesday, July 13, the final psych sheets had not yet been released, and the Open Water competition begins Tuesday. As soon as the psych sheets are released, I will post them on my Twitter and Facebook pages. Additionally, any help organizing the received predictions would be much appreciated. I will be swimming in my state championship meet until Sunday, July 24 and will not be blogging at full capacity until the next day.

I would like to have all predictions in to me ASAP, preferably by Wednesday, July 20. However, the final deadline is Friday, July 22 at 2:00 PM eastern time. By that point, whether or not Cesar Cielo will be allowed to swim will still be unanswered, so please send me a fourth swimmer in each event in which you pick Cielo. The medalists will be bumped up accordingly if Cielo is suspended. Please email me your lists at

Now, back to swimming! Today, Tom Willdridge posted a blog over at Speed Endurance where he and I provide lists of who we think the most underrated potential superstars are in every event headed into Shanghai. For the majority of events, I picked swimmers who are not usually picked as medalists but certainly have the potential to medal based on experience and potential. However, in some cases, I listed swimmers who I have predicted to medal but are surprisingly underrated. Three of such swimmers include Ous Mellouli (men’s 1500 free), Liam Tancock (men’s 50 back), and Allison Schmitt (women’s 200 free).

All the conversations about the men’s 1500 start and end with Sun Yang. The Chinese star and Asian Games gold medalist has been tipped to go under Grant Hackett’s decade-old world record of 14:34.56 in the event. But what about Ous Mellouli? He is the reigning Olympic Champion and World Champion in both short and long course. Still, no one is giving him a chance to win, some saying they can’t see him within eight seconds! The way I see it, Sun Yang has not yet stepped up on the international stage. I probably will predict him to win gold, but Mellouli will not let him run away with the title.

Likewise, in the men’s 50 back, the conversations revolve around Frenchman Camille Lacourt. At the European Championships last year, Lacourt clocked 24.07 to nearly crack Liam Tancock’s world record of 24.04, and many are predicting him to hit the target at World Champs this year. And on every prediction list, Tancock is in the number two spot. Despite dominating this event on the world stage two years ago and Commonwealth stage last year, no one can see Tancock beating the French phenom. But just as is the case with Mellouli, he has the experience of winning a world title, and he could throw in a push.

In Rome, the women’s 200 free was the domain of Federica Pellegrini, and she won by two seconds over Allison Schmitt. Schmitt won the Pan Pacific title last year, establishing herself as the clear world number two in the event, behind Pellegrini’s win at the European championships. This year, however, the landscape of the event is different; Frenchwoman Camille Muffat and Aussies Kylie Palmer and Bronte Barratt have all posted blistering times early this year to establish them as challengers to Pellegrini’s throne. Schmitt, meanwhile, posted best times to win the 200 and 500 free at the NCAA Championships and has gone much faster than her usual in-season times, but many predictors still have a tough time placing her in their top-three. However, I have been very impressed with Schmitt this year, and I think she is ready to step up and challenge Pellegrini. She will be the silver medalist in my predictions.

The men’s 100 free is an event in disarray with several potential scratches. As mentioned above, Cesar Cielo could be facing a brief suspension for a positive drug test, while we recently learned that young Aussie James Magnussen could miss the Championships after being diagnosed with pneumonia. In the 100 free, Cielo is known for going out hard and bringing his competitors along with him; I believed that without Cielo in the race, no one will really force the pace in the field. However, if Magnussen withdraws, as rumors have indicated, Olympic silver medalist Eamon Sullivan would receive the replacement spot. Third at Trials behind Magnussen and James Roberts, Sullivan has been extremely injury-prone as of late but has since Trials been relatively clean. Like Cielo, Sullivan will always be out fast in a race, and if he gets into the 100 free final, he could be the one that everyone sets out to catch. I don’t think he can beat Cielo (if he can swim it), Nathan Adrian, or Brent Hayden, but he is always a threat.

On the other side of the world, the University of Georgia will play host to some top swimmers at a Sectionals meet this weekend. Top swimmers from SwimMAC and Auburn that are not going to the World Championships will compete in Athens as a last tune-up before U.S. Nationals. Along with Americans Josh Schneider, Davis Tarwater, and Mark Dylla, Frenchwoman Laure Manaudou is scheduled to make her return to competition following a year-long retirement. The Manaudou soap opera of the past four years is well-known. After winning a medal of each color at the 2004 Olympics, she broke Janet Evans’ 400 free world record in 2006 and then won four medals at the 2007 World Championships. Following love drama and coaching changes, Manaudou retired after a terrible showing at the 2008 Olympics but announced her comeback last summer after giving birth to daughter Manon with fellow French Olympian Fred Bousquet.

Now training with Bousquet and coach Brett Hawke at Auburn, Manaudou is swimming the 50, 100, and 200 free, and 100 and 200 back this weekend at Sectionals. She is no longer focusing on the 400 free, the event in which she won gold in 2004, but rather putting efforts towards the shorter distances. I don’t expect much from Manaudou in her first meet in three years, but this Sectionals meet starts the next chapter in her famous swimming career.