Another fast day of swimming is in the books in Shanghai with five more swimmers walking away with gold… uh, actually six more. In my finals preview yesterday, I mentioned six of the eight swimmers in the 100 free final; the two I skipped, Denmark’s Jeanette Ottesen and Belarus’ Aliaksandra Herasimenia, came from nowhere and ended up tying for the gold medal. Meanwhile, the Ryan Lochte train kept rolling through the 200 back, obliterating everyone, while Rebecca Soni hung on for gold in the women’s 200 breast. Kosuke Kitajima led through 175 in the men’s 200 breast, but he could not hang on as Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta roared home to his second consecutive world title in the event. Finally, the Lochte train made one more stop in the 800 free relay as he roared past Fabien Gilot for his fourth gold medal of the week.
Meanwhile, six more finals are on the agenda for tomorrow’s finals, beginning with the women’s 50 fly. Sweden’s Therese Alshammar holds the world record (25.07), textile best and 2011’s top-ranked time (25.37), and the number one seed for the final (25.52). Despite losing out in a tight finish back in 2009, I think she will be untouchable here and reclaim her world title that she previously won in 2007. Dutchwoman Inge Dekker, China’s Lu Ying, and Alshammar’s teammate Sarah Sjostrom will also start from the middle lanes, while American Dana Vollmer is a darkhorse from lane eight, barely qualifying just minutes after competing in the 100 free final.
Brazil finished 1-2 in the semi-finals of the men’s 50 free. Bruno Fratus clocked 21.76, while his more-decorated teammate Cesar Cielo checked in at 21.79. Cielo is the reigning World and Olympic champion and world record-holder, and I think he’ll take the win in the final. However, I’m not sure if Fratus has anything left in the tank. American Nathan Adrian qualified third in 21.94, and Adrian will try to make up for a disappointing sixth-place finish in the 100 free. The field is wide open, especially after defending silver medalist Fred Bousquet missed the semi-finals, and an attack could come from any of the eight qualifiers. Watch Olympic bronze medalist Alain Bernard in lane eight as a darkhorse.
American Missy Franklin has established herself as the clear favorite for gold in the final of the women’s 200 back. She clocked a personal-best time of 2:07.71 in prelims to lead qualifiers before recording a 2:05.90 in her semi-final to break Margaret Hoelzer’s American record of 2:06.09 from 2008. Franklin is now the third-fastest performer in history, and both ahead of her (Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry and Russia’s Anastasia Zueva) missed the cut for the final. She is the prohibitive favorite for gold tomorrow in the final. Meanwhile, I predict fellow American Elizabeth Beisel to take the silver. With Australians Meagan Nay and Belinda Hocking and Britain’s Elizabeth Simmonds not swimming at their respective bests and many gold medal favorites missing the final, Beisel has a real opening here.
Next up is the men’s 100 fly. Kenya’s Jason Dunford has a lot of speed and might take the lead at the start, but this race will be all about USA’s Michael Phelps. Exerting very little energy, he clocked 51.47 in the semi-final for the top seed and holds the world’s fastest time at 51.32 from last month. I expect Phelps to blast a low-50 swim in the final and get down to Ian Crocker’s textile best of 50.40 from the Montreal World Champs six years ago. Meanwhile, the race for silver is wide open, with top contenders including Japan’s Takuro Fujii, American Tyler McGill, Australia’s Geoff Huegill, and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak.
In the final heat of the women’s 800 free, Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington and defending World champion Lotte Friis pushed each other to respective times of 8:22.27 and 8:23.07, and no one is within 4.5 seconds. However, no other contender had nearly the level of competition within the heat as those two, so despite qualifying fourth in 8:28.28, I expect American Kate Ziegler to be a big threat. Ziegler won world titles in this event in 2005 and 2007 and also won the Pan Pacific title last year. Fellow American Chloe Sutton rebounded from ninth-place finishes in both the 400 and 1500 to qualify third here in 8:27.72, but I don’t think she can hang with the big three.
The women’s medley relay brings to a close the penultimate night of action in Shanghai, and I predict the Americans to win gold for the first time since 1998. Rebecca Soni (breast) and Dana Vollmer (fly) each won gold in their respective 100 races, Natalie Coughlin won bronze in the 100 back, and Missy Franklin split a blazing 52.99 on the 400 free relay. China, meanwhile, won gold in the 100 back with Zhao Jing, bronzes in the 100 breast (Ji Liping) and 100 fly (Lu Ying), while Tang Yi split 53.12 to anchor the 400 free relay. Australia will lead off with Emily Seebohm and Leisel Jones, while Alicia Coutts is their fastest flyer and freestyler. Replacing her with either Jessicah Schipper (fly) or Yolane Kukla (free) will hurt. Another option is to swim Seebohm on free, Coutts on fly, and Hocking on back.
1. United States
In 2009, the Americans fell victim to a deep field and missed qualifying for finals. To avoid a repeat, they will need to swim some strong legs during prelims. The obvious B-team quartet is Elizabeth Pelton (back), Amanda Beard (breast), Christine Magnuson (fly), and Kara Lynn Joyce (free), but I don’t think risking missing finals just to use these swimmers is worth it. Jessica Hardy is another option for either the breast or free leg, but she will have the prelims of the 50 free and 50 breast in the same session. Some finals swimmers will have to swim twice in order to be safe in qualifying.
In prelims tonight/tomorrow morning, depending on where you are, we will see a swim-off for first alternate in the men’s 50 free. Australia’s Matt Targett and Russia’s Sergey Fesikov tied for ninth place in 22.09, prompting the need for a swim-off, despite the fact that neither man will go through to the final regardless. Definitely could be interesting to keep an eye on, and maybe one or both will swim a time in the 21 range. The calm water in a swim-off situation combined with impressive performances already in Shanghai for both men could lead to some nice fireworks for prelims.
Finally, Eric Shanteau provided more good news for the American men’s medley relay today. He finished fourth in the 200 breast today in 2:09.28, much faster than last year’s best of 2:10.09. Thus, he should be able to put up a split in the 59-mid range on the relay, which should be enough to put the Americans close enough to the lead where Michael Phelps can crush his opponents and Nathan Adrian cruise home to victory. With Hughes Duboscq missing finals in either breaststroke event, the news keeps getting better for the American men in their quest for gold.
After six days of competition in Shanghai, the scores in the prediction contest are as follows. Looks like a two-man race for the top spot, and I am in the lead!
1. David Rieder 252
2. Matt Salzberg 248
3. Melissa German 223
4. Chris DeSantis 219
5. Braden Keith 218
6. John Lohn 214
7. John Liu 212
8. Kristine Sorenson 208
9. Jerry Shandrew 196
10. Tom Willdridge 187
11. Sebastian Schwenke 152