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.
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.
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.
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.
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