Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London 2012: Day Four Finals, Part Two

After an historic night at the Aquatic Center, don’t forget to check out my thoughts on the four finals.

Coming into the Olympics, most considered the women’s 200 fly perhaps the weakest event for the American women. Elaine Breeden and Kathleen Hersey finished 7-8 at the Beijing Olympics, and no American finaled in the event at the 2011 Worlds. Sure, Cammile Adams put up an impressive 2:06.52 at U.S. Trials, but few anticipated a U.S. medal in the event. Kathleen Hersey, meanwhile, made the team after finishing ninth at two straight World Championships. However, Hersey has emerged today as a serious contender for the gold medal.

Hersey followed up a lifetime best time of 2:06.41 in prelims with a 2:05.90 to lead semi-finals. That time makes Hersey the third-fastest American all-time, just two one-hundredths behind the 2:05.88 that Misty Hyman swam in one of the greatest upsets in history back at the 2000 Olympics. Still, no one should consider Hersey a lock for gold, as she still has to face off with the dangerous Chinese duo of Jiao Liuyang and Liu Zige, along with British favorite Jemma Lowe in lane eight. Still, the Americans could definitely earn their first Olympic medal in this event since 2000.

After a lackluster swim in the 400 free relay which cost the favored Aussies a medal, much of the world discounted James Magnussen. The World Champion, however, responded tonight with a 47.63 swim to lead semi-finals in the 100 free, matching his winning time from Shanghai last summer. Cesar Cielo took the first semi-final out quickly, before a revived Magnussen thrashed the world record-holder the last 15 meters to re-establish his credentials. Magnussen, though, could have competition from American Nathan Adrian in the final.

Adrian joined Magnussen under 48 in the semi-final with a 47.97. Adrian, interestingly, went out in 23.00 before closing in 24.97, possibly his fastest closing split ever. Adrian has speed, though, and he will need his usual opening blast and that closing speed if he has a chance of upsetting Magnussen. Yannick Agnel and Brent Hayden also got into the final, and they could seriously threaten the middle two lanes, while Cuban Hanser Garcia blazed home to nearly clip Adrian in their semi-final heat. Garcia will swim from lane three in the final as a potential huge spoiler. Cullen Jones, meanwhile, missed the final with a 48.60, but his better medal chance comes in the 50 free coming up.

Four heralded medal contenders, Daniel Gyurta, Kosuke Kitajima, Ryo Tateishi, and Brenton Rickard, all qualified for the final of the men’s 200 breast. Surprisingly, though, the rest of the final consists of two Brits and two Americans with a combined one World Championship and no Olympic appearances. Michael Jamieson led the way with a 2:08.20, a new British record, while Willis qualified third behind Gyurta, also getting under the 2:09 barrier. Scott Weltz, the upset winner at U.S. Olympic Trials, dropped his best time with a 2:08.99 to claim the fourth seed, and he will swim next to teammate Clark Burckle. Burckle earned sixth in the semi-finals with a 2:09.11, his second best time today.

Kitajima, meanwhile, ended up fourth in his semi-final in 2:09.03 to pick up the sixth seed for the final. Doubts remain, however, if he can break the three-peat curse and win a third straight gold. With the performances in the semi-finals today, Kitajima has to come up big if he even wants to earn a medal. He always has a chance, but he has not shown the capability to come through with a clutch swim in the final here in London. Meanwhile, if the Americans want to get a medal, they both need to take the race out faster to maintain contact with the field; both came from virtually nowhere to finish top-three in their respective heats.

Swimming in London has reached its halfway point, with four of the eight days in the books. Four more individual events kick off tomorrow morning. Ryan Lochte highlights both the men’s 200 back and 200 IM, preparing to face off with Ryosuke Irie in the 200 back and Michael Phelps in the 200 IM, though Thiago Pereira could also challenge the big two after an impressive silver in the 400 IM.

On the women’s side, Rebecca Soni hopes to maintain her dominance in the 200 breast after losing her 100 breast title to Lithuanian younger Ruta Meilutyte. Meilutyte, though, won’t swim the 200 breast; instead, she has the women’s 100 free, where Ranomi Kromowidjojo enters as the huge favorite. Kromowidjojo returns to the pool tomorrow after a blazing 51.93 anchor leg on the 400 free relay, the fastest split in history. Missy Franklin, meanwhile, goes for yet another individual event in that 100 free.

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