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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2. United States