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

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