Five finals await the world on a packed Day 3 of competition in Shanghai. Having already discussed what transpired on the first two days of action, here is my take on what is to come on Tuesday and some updated predictions regarding the action. Without further ado, here goes.
The hardest race to predict of the five is the first, the men’s 200 free. France’s Yannick Agnel leads the way, followed closely by the German defending champion Paul Biedermann. Americans Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps bracket 400 free champion Park Tae Hwan, and the medals will stay between those five swimmers. Olympic gold medalist Phelps really cruised through the middle 100 of his semi-final swim, but I just don’t know if he’s in good enough shape to get this title back. Biedermann has looked better than I expected here, and a German gold here would not surprise me like it would have a week ago. Park did not swim as fast as many predicted in the 400 free, but again, he has the speed to be ready to go here. But I will predict Lochte to win gold. He looked sharp in the semi-final, and although Biedermann did out-touch him, he had the win before putting the race on cruise control 10 meters from the wall.
I originally predicted China’s Zhao Jing to win the women’s 100 back, ahead of Japan’s Aya Terakawa and the United States’ Natalie Coughlin. However, Zhao has not looked especially sharp through the first few rounds, and Terakawa barely qualified for the final in eighth, while Coughlin cruised to the top qualifying position. The race is tight through to the final and will be once again tomorrow, but she has a tendency to get her fingertips on the wall just in time, as she has done in the last two Olympic races. I pick Coughlin to win her third career World title in the 100 back tomorrow.
The women’s 1500 free comes next, perhaps the most open race of the night. Lotte Friis leads the way in 16:00.47, but the prelims were fast and tight. In reality, any of the eight finalists could win a gold medal tomorrow. Friis won the 800 free at the 2009 Worlds in Rome after finishing second in the 1500, Kate Ziegler of the U.S. holds the world record at 15:42.54, having obliterated Janet Evans’ 19 year old mark back in 2007. Ziegler, the 2005 and 2007 champion in this event, finished second to Friis in their heat on Monday morning in 16:02.53 for the third-ranked qualifying time overall. Australian Melissa Gorman defeated Ziegler to take the 1500 crown at Pan Pacs last summer, and Gorman is already a London Olympian, having qualified in the 10k Open Water last week. Perhaps the most surprising prelim swim came from Shao Yiwen, who clocked a Chinese record time of 16:01.72 to finish second.
France’s Jeremy Stravius led all qualifiers in the 100 back semi-finals, clocking 52.76 to break 53 for the first time in his career. However, his countryman Camille Lacourt is the favorite for gold, having swum 52.11, not far from Aaron Peirsol’s world record of 51.94, to win the European title last year. I don’t think Lacourt will quite get to Peirsol’s mark in the final, but he should win gold. Stravius will battle for the silver medal with Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, and I predict American David Plummer to get in on all the fun to grab a medal. The race for the top will be tight with Plummer’s teammate Nick Thoman and Britain’s Liam Tancock and Germany’s Helge Meeuw, both previous medalists in this event. I do not expect New Zealand’s Gareth Kean to be a factor.
I am not making a bold prediction in picking American Rebecca Soni to win the women’s 100 breast. She has led prelims and semi-finals by more than a second and a half each time. Her semi-final time of 1:04.91 and her prelim time of 1:05.54 are the two fastest times in the world this year, respectively. Already, Soni holds the top-six times swum in 2011! The big question is can she approach the world record? Jessica Hardy clocked that 1:04.45 back in 2009, but I don’t think Soni has quite enough to break the record in Shanghai. Maybe next year in London. Leisel Jones, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, qualified second in 1:06.66; she will be much faster in the final, but I still don’t see her approaching Jones. Defending silver medalist and European champion Yuliya Efimova and Chinese swimmers Ji Liping and Sun Ye look like challengers for a bronze.
Looks like another great finals session tomorrow from China, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Two world records (men’s 100 back and women’s 100 breast) will be on watch, and I see swimmers approaching but not beating these times. Not to worry; world records will be set later on this week.
Finally, I will share the results of my prediction contest after two days of action. Looks like a good competitive battle going on, but I think we all remember who is the swim geek! You can view all the prediction entries here.
1. David Rieder 78
2. Matt Salzberg 77
3. Kristine Sorenson 68
4. Chris DeSantis 64
5. John Lohn 62
6. Braden Keith 60
7. Jerry Shandrew 54
8. Melissa German 53
9. Sebastian Schwenke 44
10. Tom Willdridge 43