Wednesday, August 1, 2012

London 2012: Day Five Prelims

Only two days of prelims remain after five events took to the pool this morning. These prelim sessions have become far more routine, and by this point, none of the major medal contenders will complain with sneaking into the semi-finals. However, what better opportunity than prelims for underdogs to come in and make a statement headed into the semi-finals and maybe put a bit of a scare into those top contenders. Let’s take a look at a few of the highlights.

Jumping into a deep field in the women’s 100 free, China’s Tang Yi emerged as the surprise top qualifier in 53.28. Australia’s Melanie Schlanger got into second in 53.50, a best time but not quite as impressive as her 52.65 anchor leg on Australia’s 400 free relay on Saturday night. Co-World Champs Jeanette Ottesen and Aliaksandra Herasimenia came in next, followed by favorite Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Brit Fran Halsall and Americans Jessica Hardy and Missy Franklin all cruised on in for a shot to swim for the top-eight tonight.

Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace of the Bahamas impressed the field in prelims this morning with a 53.73, her first swim under 54. While Vanderpool-Wallace might not have enough to contend for a medal in the 100 free, that could be a sign of big things to come in the 50. Defending champion Britta Steffen finished 14th in prelims, but she has not shown yet that she has enough to contend for a medal. Meanwhile, Dutchwoman Femke Heemskerk tied for 15th in 54.43; she has fallen a long way from her form a year ago, where she entered Worlds as a gold medal favorite.

The men’s 200 back featured no big surprises as the top four finishers from Worlds took the top four spots in prelims. Americans Tyler Clary and Ryan Lochte led the way, followed by China’s Zhang Fenglin and Japan’s Ryosuke Irie, while Hungary’s Galor Baglog joined the foursome under 1:56. These Olympics have seen some major upsets, and still no one has defended an individual gold medal, but I don’t expect that trend to hold true in the 200 back. Lochte enters as the heavy favorites, and Irie and Clary should still join him on the podium. Not a whole lot here in the way of darkhorse candidates.

Rebecca Soni unexpectedly found herself on the silver medal podium for the 100 breast, but she too looks like she has an inside track on a title defense in the 200 breast. Soni opened up with a blazing 2:21.40. Rikke Pederson, though, didn’t let Soni swim away from her in their heat, coming in at 2:22.69. Still, Soni has a clear gap with the rest of the field, and I think she still has a good deal more in the tank. 100 breast bronze medalist Satomi Suzuki and Olympic Trials runner-up Micah Lawrence qualified third and fourth, while Russian favorite Yuliya Efimova finished well back.

Efimova continued a disappointing Olympics after failing to medal in the 100 breast. Efimova tied for 14th in prelims today in 2:26.83; that means that she will have to unleash an outstanding swim from an outside lane in the semi-final tonight if she wants to have a chance at repeating or bettering her silver medal from last year’s World Championships. Meanwhile, 2009 World Champion Nadja Higl missed out on the semi-final with 2:28.38, as did Jamaican Alia Atkinson, who took fourth earlier in the 100 breast.

In the second-to-last heat of the men’s 400 IM, Michael Phelps outtouched Laszlo Cseh by just 0.07. Well, as I’m sure everyone remembers, that turned out to be the difference between getting into the final and not. After also missing out on the final in the 200 fly, Cseh took no chances in the 200 IM. Cseh blasted a 1:57.20, just off of his 1:56.66 winning time from the European Championships. The top four from the 400 IM finished in the next few spots: Lochte, Kosuke Hagino, Michael Phelps, and Thiago Pereira. That means that Phelps and Lochte will swim head-to-head in semi-final one tonight. Both men have had their struggles these Olympics, but they remain the class of this field.

Finally, the women’s 800 free relay heats wrapped up the morning, and the Aussies took the top seed with the only time under 7:50. Brittany Elmslie led off in 1:57.50, and Blair Evans anchored in 1:56.99 as both should remain on the finals relay with Kylie Palmer and individual bronze medalist Bronte Barratt. Still, I don’t think that team can hang with the favored Americans, who have Olympic champ Allison Schmitt and superstar Missy Franklin coming onto the team. Shannon Vreeland (1:57.04) and Alyssa Anderson (1:57.33) had the fastest splits this morning, but Dana Vollmer could still be on tonight’s finals team.

Vollmer only split 1:58.31 in the prelims, but she has indicated that she will swim in finals. On Twitter, she commented: “Felt great on the 4x200relay this morning! Nice and smooth! I can't wait for the Finals!!” Vollmer certainly has the credentials to swim on that relay, including a bronze in the 200 free at the 2009 Worlds. Canada qualified third for the final, while France (Camille Muffat) and Italy (Federica Pellegrini) both have aces that could contribute to a medal run. Don’t count out China, though, out in lane seven; the Chinese still hold the world record from the 2009 World Champs.

Alright, enough of that; time for predictions for day five finals!

Men’s 200 Breast
1. Daniel Gyurta
2. Michael Jamieson
3. Scott Weltz

Women’s 200 Fly
1. Jiao Liuyang
2. Kathleen Hersey
3. Natsumi Hoshi

Men’s 100 Free
1. James Magnussen
2. Nathan Adrian
3. Yannick Agnel

Women’s 800 Free Relay
1. United States
2. Australia
3. China

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