Missy Franklin got some momentum going for the American team after her win in the women’s 100 back; Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman kept the Stars and Stripes moving with a second-consecutive 1-2 finish in the men’s 100 back. Camille Lacourt took the race out in first under world record-pace, but the Frenchman who dominated this race the last two years had nothing left down the stretch. Grevers overtook Lacourt off the wall and held on for a 52.16, just off his 52.08 from Trials. Thoman, meanwhile, blew off the wall and raced past Lacourt and home favorite Liam Tancock for a silver medal in 52.92, just off his 52.86 from Trials, ahead of the always-steady Ryosuke Irie.
The finals for the night wrapped up in the women’s 100 breast, and for the last four years, women’s breaststroke has belonged to Rebecca Soni. Tonight, though, Soni had to scramble in her last-ditch attempt to take gold. She couldn’t get to the wall. Ruta Meilutyte touched out Soni, 1:05.47 to 1:05.55. Meilutyte emerged from nowhere to lead the field through all three rounds, and Soni just didn’t have the speed to take the race out with the Lithuanian youngster. Soni showed some serious class after the race, smiling and proudly accepting her silver medal. Still, don’t think Soni has nothing left; she has looked even more dominant in the 200 this year, an event she still hasn’t lost since 2009, and she remains the favorite to defend her gold.
Next up, Michael Phelps dove in for the semi-finals of the 200 fly. After Takeshi Matsuda led his heat with a 1:54.25 clocking, Phelps hung with the pack in the second before exploding down the final 50 to win the heat in 1:54.53. However, the second semi-final turned out to be slower than the first, and Phelps earned the fourth seed for the final. I don’t think that matters; Phelps should make history tomorrow, becoming the first man to win three straight Olympic titles in one event. I think he can get down to 1:53-low or even a 1:52 to take the gold.
Matsuda, meanwhile, has consistently failed to get under the 1:54-barrier, and he hasn’t improved on his semi-final times at the last two Worlds Championships. Could he put together the full package tomorrow and challenge or beat Phelps? Sure. That said, I don’t think he will. Chad Le Clos and Chen Yin also qualified ahead of Phelps, but I don’t know how much faster they can go either. Phelps pulled away from his Japanese rival on the last lap at Worlds last summer, and I think that he goes out hard and holds on for gold in the final.
Finally, we wrapped up the session with the women’s 200 IM semis. In two rounds of this event, we’ve learned nothing new. Yi Shiwen entered as the huge favorite after her world record performance in the 400 IM, and she has so much left in the tank despite a 2:08.39 in the semi-final to set a new Olympic record. She has shown nothing of her fireworks on the freestyle leg of the IM after outsplitting Ryan Lochte on the last 50 of the 400 IM. Expect those fireworks in the final.
Meanwhile, Alicia Coutts broke 2:10 in the semi-final to establish herself as the slight favorite for silver, while Americans Caitlin Leverenz and Ariana Kukors both have great shots at medals, sitting right behind the Aussie. Coutts’ teammate Stephanie Rice got into the final in sixth, but Rice would have to put together the performance of a lifetime to take a medal this time around. Kirsty Coventry finds herself in the same situation; despite getting herself into the final, Coventry has a long way to go towards repeating her silver medal from four years ago. Coventry will swim next to Rice in the final, just like four years ago, but lanes 7 and 8 don’t look the same as 4 and 5 did back in Beijing.