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