Thursday, August 2, 2012

London 2012: Day Six Prelims

So unless I missed something, all of the top contenders cruised through the sixth day of prelims at the London Aquatic Center with no major casualties. Certainly, the drama of prelims has died down just a little bit since the incredible first few days of prelims. Maybe we all just expect major upsets now, so expectations have vanished. With only one session of prelims left, coming up tomorrow morning, here’s what I’ve got from today.

George Bovell has swum in a lot of Olympic Games, with the highlight coming back in 2004, when he earned a bronze in the 200 IM. After reinventing himself as a 50 freestyler, Bovell made the semi-finals in Beijing four years ago before tying for eighth the next year at the Worlds in Rome. Bovell swam off with Kristian Takacs and won in 21.20, a new Championships record. Bovell, though, couldn’t match that in his seventh-place finish in the finals, despite that his swim-off time would have won a silver.

Now, though, Bovell enters the Olympic semi-final as a medal favorite, clocking 21.77 in the heats. Defending champ Cesar Cielo and Bruno Fratus finished second and third in prelims, while Americans Anthony Ervin and Cullen Jones joined 2004 bronze medalist Roland Schoeman under 22 seconds and squarely in the medal chase. Despite his disappointing sixth place-finish in the 100 free, Cielo remains the gold medal favorite, but absolutely anything can happen in the 50 free. Anthony Ervin knows that; he tied for the gold in an unbelievable finish back in 2000, and he has his sights set on a podium return.

The two Australians, meanwhile, struggled this morning. James Magnussen entered as a medal favorite, but I’m not sure he has enough swagger left to make a medal run. Magnussen has not caught a break yet this week after his relay disappointment and a narrow loss to Nathan Adrian in the 100 free. Magnussen finished tenth this morning at 22.11, while former world record-holder Eamon Sullivan squeaked into the semis in 16th at 22.27. Sulivan provided a bright spot for the Aussies on the 400 free relay with a 47.68 split, so maybe he can find his old form one more time for a medal run.

The British liked the results of the women’s 800 free, where Rebecca Adlington edged Lotte Friis for the top seed with both checking in under 8:22. That’s the race for gold in those middle two lanes. American youngster Katie Ledecky admitted to some nerves in her first Olympic race, but she sure didn’t swim like it; Ledecky put up an 8:23.84 to comfortably earn the third seed for the final and firmly in the medal chase. Beyond those three, the rest of the final finished between 8:25 and 8:27. Kate Ziegler, meanwhile, touched in 8:37.38, the flu leading to a second-straight disappointing Olympic result.

Chad Le Clos won the Olympic gold in the 200 fly on Tuesday, and he has ridden that wave of momentum into the 100 fly. Le Clos took the top seed in 51.54, but Michael Phelps looms in 51.72. In a familiar scene, Phelps touched out Milorad Cavic to win the final heat, and Phelps looks strong in this 100 fly. If he does not win gold in the 200 IM tonight, he will have just one last shot for the three-peat, and the 100 fly may be his best; Phelps’ endurance has looked shaky this week, but no one can question that he has some speed that he didn’t four years ago.

Evgeny Korotyshkin, Cavic, Konrad Czerniak, Steffen Deibler, and Tyler McGill all got under the 52 second mark, setting up a fascinating semi-final tonight. I expect that anyone who wants to get safely into the final needs to swim under 51.8, maybe even faster. Watch out for Czerniak and McGill, especially, the pair who joined Phelps on the podium in the event at Worlds last year. McGill pushed Phelps all the way at Olympic Trials last month, and he expects a faster swim in London, one in the sub-51 range.

The U.S. led the way in the morning’s final event, the women’s 200 back. Missy Franklin led the way in 2:07.54, and Elizabeth Beisel finished second in 2:07.82. Franklin won gold at Worlds last year in a new American record, but Beisel has had far more mixed success in the 200 back. Beisel took bronze at Worlds in Rome three years ago, but she ended up fifth in Shanghai last year. While Franklin celebrated her first World title, Beisel embraced her before turning away, looking angry at her swim. Of course, she responded a day later with a World title in the 400 IM, but she has her sights set on a second Olympic medal in the 200 back.

While no man has ever won three straight golds in one event, two women have done so, Dawn Fraser in the 100 free and Kristina Egerszegi in the 200 back. Kirsty Coventry has her sights set on that same feat, as she could match Egerszegi with a third straight gold tomorrow. Coventry has one final in the book in the 200 IM, and she should move onto a third after qualifying third for semis with a 2:08.14. Franklin remains the big favorite, but Coventry’s medal hopes have risen over the course of these Games. Watch, too, for Aussies Meagan Nay and Belinda Hocking, fourth and fifth into the semis.

Well, enough of that; four big finals tonight, and let’s check out my picks.

Women’s 200 Breast
1. Rebecca Soni
2. Yuliya Efimova
3. Rikke Pederson

Men’s 200 Back
1. Ryan Lochte
2. Ryosuke Irie
3. Tyler Clary

Men’s 200 IM
1. Ryan Lochte
2. Michael Phelps
3. Laszlo Cseh

Women’s 100 Free
1. Ranomi Kromwidjojo
2. Melanie Schlanger
3. Fran Halsall

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