Sunday, July 29, 2012

London 2012: Day Two Finals, Part Two

Three individual events opened finals tonight – check out my thoughts on those events.

The women’s 100 fly and men’s 100 breast provided thrills in world records; the men’s 400 free relay provided huge shocks. After the Americans released the slightly-surprising order of Nathan Adrian, Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones, and Ryan Lochte, I knew that Adrian had to get off to a great start. Adrian did just that;  his 47.89 broke his three-year old best time of 48.00. Next, Phelps looked so much better than in his 400 IM last night, splitting a blazing 47.15. Cullen Jones and Ryan Lochte followed that up with solid splits of 47.64 and 47.74, respectively. Though I thought Lochte could swim slightly faster, the foursome performed about like I expected them to; I expected that would get them a silver medal.

Well, they did win a silver medal, but stunningly, France won gold, not the heavily-favored Australia. Frenchmen Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, and Clement Lefert swam to fast starts, but where did Yannick Agnel come from with a shocking 46.84? Agnel ran down and swam right by Lochte. Agnel, now a huge contender in the individual 100 free, and he has as good a chance as anyone to win the men’s 200 free final tomorrow. He’ll face off with Lochte again, along with 400 free champ Sun Yang, defending silver medalist Park Tae Hwan, and world record-holder Paul Biedermann in what shapes up as one of the great races of these Olympics.

What happened with Australia? Their vaunted foursome finished fourth. What happened? They just underperformed. James Magnussen led off in 48.03, nearly a second off his best time. The middle men, Matt Targett and Eamon Sullivan, did their jobs, but world number two James Roberts didn’t even split under 48. Australia had some momentum coming into day two; that race guts the Aussies of any momentum just two days in. Props to Russia, too, for stepping up and beating the Aussies with four solid legs, especially Vlad Morozov’s 47.35.

Semi-finals today did not provide any shocks as top qualifiers from prelims remained on top headed into the finale. Emily Seebohm swam just a bit slower than her near-world record performance in the women’s 100 back, but she remains nearly a second ahead of the dangerous Missy Franklin. Matt Grevers topped the men’s 100 back again; his 52.66 well outperformed the 53.03 of Camille Lacourt. Grevers enters the final tomorrow poised to upgrade from his silver medal four years ago.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte backed up her out-of-nowhere 100 breast from prelims with a new European record in the semi-finals, a 1:05.21. Should we consider her the favorite over Rebecca Soni? Hard to tell. Soni took out the race extremely slow in 32.13, a split upon which she can make major improvements. Soni has swum under 1:05 the past two years, and she has a lot more in the tank. However, can Soni stop the blazing Meilutyte? Certainly she does not have an easy task ahead of her.

Two Olympic stars return to the pool in prelims tomorrow morning. Women’s 400 IM gold medalist and world record-holder Yi Shiwen enters the 200 IM as the favorite to back up her World title with Olympic gold. Yi has shown some massive improvements in London; could she possibly approach Ariana Kukors’ world record, an unthinkable 2:06.15? Aussie Alicia Coutts and American Kukors finished just behind Yi at Worlds last year, and they lead the medal charge, along with Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, America’s Caitlin Leverenz, and maybe even defending champ Stephanie Rice.

Michael Phelps enters the water tomorrow for his signature event, the 200 fly. After an extremely disappointing swim in the 400 IM to open his Games, Phelps bounced back majorly with his 47.15 relay split. Phelps has the speed; does he have enough endurance for the 200 fly? I think he will come through in his best event, but he has to deal with his usual sparing mate, Takeshi Matsuda, and the likes of Wu Peng and Chad Le Clos. Good competition in the 200 fly, but who doubts Phelps in his baby? In the third attempt of these Games, Phelps could finally become the first man to win three straight Olympic golds in the same event.

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