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

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