Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London 2012: Day Four Prelims

Last night, the American team woke up; Missy Franklin’s surprising win in the women’s 100 back followed up by a 1-2 finish in the men’s 100 back appears to have galvanized the team after an impressive morning prelims, including top qualifying marks in three of the four events contested. Nathan Adrian topped a deep field in the100 free prelims, Kathleen Hersey swam a lifetime best to lead the 200 fly, and Scott Weltz and Clark Burckle both hung right in with the top contenders in the men’s 200 breast, Burckle also with a best time. All six Americans in individual events qualified for the semi-finals, and the men’s 800 free relay team took first headed into finals.

On the other side of the coin, some medal contenders found themselves right on the bubble to advance, either in or out. 200 free winner Yannick Agnel has become a favorite in the 100 free, but he narrowly made the semi-finals; his 48.93 put him into the next round with less than a tenth of a second to spare. Ellen Gandy, the British favorite who won silver at last year’s Worlds, finished 17th and out in the women’s 200 fly, while defending silver medalist Brenton Rickard barely advanced in the men’s 200 breast. Medal contender Russia then proceeded to finish tenth in the 800 free relay.

Despite some of the surprising and other disappointing performances this morning, we need to wait for semi-finals to see how much the athletes held back this morning. At this point in the meet, prelims swims mean less than they did back on the first few days. One swim, though, stood out to me this morning: after Brazil missed the final in the 400 free relay when they rested Cesar Cielo in prelims, Cielo didn’t kick off his Olympics until his prelim heat of the men’s 100 free this morning. Cielo, though, didn’t exactly kick off his meet in style, finishing fifth in his heat 48.67.

In Cielo’s heat, American Nathan Adrian did not get off to the best start, but he just destroyed the field after that, and he held off Gideon Louw to win his heat in 48.19, which turned out to be the top time after prelims. After only two swims, Adrian has gotten his Olympics off to a very good start. He beat the likes of James Magnussen leading off the 400 free relay, finally breaking the elusive 48-second barrier, and he’s carrying that momentum into the 100 free. Adrian disappointingly found himself off the podium at Worlds last year, and he obviously hopes to avoid a repeat. Expect a tough, fast field in the final, but Adrian’s star has risen.

Charlie Houchin, Matt McLean, Davis Tarwater, and Conor Dwyer swam away from the field in the prelims of the 800 free relay, securing lane four once again for the U.S. France, though, still has their ace to play; Agnel swam a 1:43.14 to win the 200 free last night, a time no one else in London can match. France swam Jeremy Stravius, Gregory Mallet, Amaury Leveaux, and Clement Lefert in prelims, and they can’t go wrong with using any three along with Agnel. That foursome will push the Americans for gold. Meanwhile, look for a Sun Yang-led Chinese squad to battle a Paul Biedermann-led German team for bronze, especially in the absence of the usually-prominent Russians.

The Americans still have yet to show what Michael Phelps can swim in his 200 free, but he looked fantastic on the 400 free relay, splitting a fast 47.15. Phelps needs to put out a fast time today if the Americans want to win a third-straight gold. Ryan Lochte will swim on the relay, and technically, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens should join the pair in finals. Berens finished ninth in the 200 free, while Dwyer threw down a blazing 1:45.52 split today. However, the American coaches could still go with Peter Vanderkaay, the bronze medalist in the 400 free who did not technically qualify for the relay. As always, tough decisions to make.

Did anyone see that Missy Franklin won the 100 back gold last night? Yeah, I figured you might have. After NBC spoiled the result minutes before they showed the final. Of course, the network made up by helping Franklin meet her parents for the first time in weeks after the final. Then, the Today Show highlighted Franklin this morning. Clearly, the media has placed a great deal of hype among Franklin and for good reason; America has fallen in love with this 17 year old phenom.

Everyone who watched NBC’s Olympic prime time coverage saw Franklin’s tough but perfectly-navigated double. Teens relate to the bubbly 17 year old high school senior who enjoys spending time with her friends. Adults marvel at her poise and genuine respect and appreciation. That performance last night amazed the world; the nation let out a collective “aww” when tears welled up in Franklin’s eyes in the pool and then on the podium. Her first Olympic gold meant so much; what a touching moment.

As always, time to finish up with some more predictions.

Women’s 200 Free
1. Allison Schmitt
2. Camille Muffat
3. Federica Pellegrini

Men’s 200 Fly
1. Michael Phelps
2. Takeshi Matsuda
3. Dinko Jukic

Women’s 200 IM
1. Ye Shiwen
2. Alicia Coutts
3. Caitlin Leverenz

Men’s 800 Free Relay
1. United States
2. France
3. Germany
Caitlin Leverenz tied for sixth in the 400 IM and hopes to improve on that in today's final of the 200 IM.

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