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By Priyant Pratap, BehindTheBlocks.com
ROME, Italy, July 30. DAY 5 has marked the beginning of the second half of the FINA World Championships here at the Foro Italico in Rome. With the sun continuing to pass over in full force over the pool the atmosphere is more relaxed, the event is running smoothly, and the swimmers have found their niche with pool.
The Italians have continued to come out in support of their swimmers, experiencing a rare treat in seeing three gold medals in the first few days of the meet. Federica Pellegrini continued her diva streak, by calling herself "the greatest athlete in the history of Italian sport" and that she doesn't understand why there would be any doubt!
Speaking of the 200 free, Dana Vollmer has been on the comeback trail with intense ferocity. With a heavy program, she capped the event off with a bronze medal, expressing some disappointment with the time, but also being happy with the medal she's received. Having been en route to Beijing, then not making the team, she's come back in 2009 to make this year in American women's swimming her own.
"I felt like I really needed a break," Vollmer told Swimming World. "I'd taken some time to regather myself in the sport, enjoy life a little and find myself in the sport again. I felt like last year I was swimming for my home town, for my club, for my teammates, for my peers, but I wasn't swimming for myself. This year, that's all changed and I couldn't be happier with how I'm doing".
The notion of finding yourself in one sport is one that rings too true to Markus Rogan of Austria. We've heard him be very vocal about not having as much fun in the sport and almost cementing that he'll be retiring after Rome, when he seemed visibly upset with the sport in 2008. Swimming World discussed this with Rogan to see how he's progressed since then.
"Well, I've been working with a private bank full time and so I'm really happy, and it's helping me become a good swimmer. I'm enjoying it! I think a lot of swimmers forget what swimming is about. We need to swim because it's fun, not because we want to dedicate our whole lives to it."
When I asked about whether or not he's going to definitely be swimming past this year, considering he's enjoying himself in the water again, he responded "Well Lars Froelander has been quitting for 10 years! I mean, he got Sweden into the final in a broken suit – I think that was one of the greatest swims of the meet! I keep telling him to retire, I told him to retire in Sydney!"
When asked by Swimming World about his heats swim and whether he was okay with it, he responded "No! NO! That was one of the worst swims of my life. No, THE worst swim of my life! Oh my God that was terrible!"
Swimming World: "So where do you go from here?"
Rogan: "I've got the 50 back to go, I'm sure that will be interesting. Then I've got a bit of work to do here, but probably no partying".
Libby Trickett finally raced a morning session, after missing the 100 fly at Trials in fourth position, and event in which she won the Olympic Gold in. Swimming World asked her about finally getting a morning swim in the heats of the 100 free where she enters as the second seed to the new American Record holder, Amanda Weir (swimming 53.20).
"I haven't had a break like this in a meet in a long time," Trickett told Swimming World. "I usually do the 100 fly, and the last time I didn't race it was in 2004! It was a good challenge to be so rested in the relay the other day. Tonight, I don't wanna go out too quickly, but I want to find a balance, which is hard at this meet. As for the 50 fly, they don't require that much training...I hope! Fingers crossed!"
The 100 free will feature the absence of Marleen Veldhuis, who has scratched, and been replaced by teammate (who swam the fastest split in their relay of 52.3) Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Swimming World spoke to Inge Dekker about her performance after the 100 fly where Marleen was the only woman in the final to not break 58s.
"She just wants to concentrate on the 50," Dekker said. "Her 100 butterfly wasn't so good with all the girls swimming so fast. She thinks she'll find it harder to medal in the 100 freestyle. So there's no drama there."
Inge wore Arena, her sponsor, saying it fits her really well and finds it better than the other suits she's tried. Discussing the year she's had in swimming:
"I'm fine now but I had a tough year," Dekker said. "I didn't swim well at the Olympics. I was sick at the European short course and then I had problems concentrating and training. I was really nervous not knowing if I could swim anymore. But it was a tough year but I'm finally swimming fast!"
Inge led off the 400 free relay in night one, with a personal best of 53.61 which led to a gold medal. She told Swimming World she knew it would be tough, and says the team was extremely nervous with all the pressure surrounding them as World, European and Olympic Champions.
"That was wonderful," Dekker said. "Ranomi swam really fast and that's what we needed, because otherwise we would have been second!"
The Dutch missed out on a spot in the 800 free final, but whilst they are disappointed, they removed 3 seconds from their national record. Great Britain has entered with a championship record swim of 7:49.04 slightly ahead of the U.S. ,who also cleared 7:50. This relay has shown much potential for Great Britain this decade, and has been a crusade for women like Karen Pickering and Melanie Marshall to prove to the world the ability of the girls as a team. But with various coaching decisions and selection decisions, this hasn't been showcased yet, highlighted by the ninth place finish in Beijing when selectors admitted to handing out positions in the heats which led to slow splits.
With the retirement of Marshall following the Olympics, Jazmin Carlin has stepped in as the newest replacement to join Jo Jackson, Rebecca Adlington and Caitlin McClatchey. Carlin split 1:56.45 which will see her to the finals. She spoke to Swimming World following the race.
"It feels great to step in this year! I'm looking up to other girls. It's my first meet, me being the youngest it's great for the depth of the women's team. I've been training well with my coach and getting on pretty great with my swimming so we'll see what happens tonight!"
Camille Muffat had an enormous cheering squad on display during the women's 200 IM, and entered the meet as a gold medal contender. She finished outside of the medals and spoke to Swimming World about how France has come a long way without Laure Manaudou on the 800 free relay, and her thoughts on the 200 IM.
"I think our results are okay in the relay, we can do a lot better tonight. I was hoping to see a medal, but when I see that first place was 2:06, I just understand why I wasn't getting a medal. Even if I did a better time I wouldn't have been able to make the podium. With the suits, I think I don't have a choice and I just have to go with what is happening, if I want to see a good result, but I'm very happy".
When asking Ariana Kukors, winner of the 200 IM in an amazing 2:06.15, how life has changed, she responded, "well my Facebook officially exploded."
Eric Shanteau finished just outside of the medals in the men's 100 breast in 4th position. Following the 200 breast, where he qualified fastest with one of the best times in history, a 2:08.55. He talked about his brother finishing with his swimming career, and commending his parents on never playing favorites and treating them as equals despite the others success. As for the meet he's just focusing on results, not times. His positioning is what counts, not what times he swims or the times that everyone else swims, because it all comes down to racing.
Francesca Halsall of Great Britain also echoed this sentiment, saying she's not focusing on swimming fast times or slow times in each event, but rather to do enough to progress and place high.
"I'm now the third fastest 100m freestyler ever, so that feels pretty amazing. I did my times based on where I thought I would place, so I'm feeling great that my swims have ranked me so high. I have a lot left in the tank, and so I'll just spread my treats amongst my swims!"
Australian Sally Foster was quite the iron woman, and was surprised when asked to comment on her swim in the 200 breast. She's represented Australia in this for many years and has progressed to the semifinals in 2:26.04, an event which saw Canadian Annamay Pierse take first place in 2:21.68, taking down Leisel Jones' 200 breast meet record. Sally was dubbed the iron woman of Australian trials, tackling multiple events with very little rest time, with freestyles, breaststrokes and IMs.
"That time is okay for a heats swim so I'm happy. I am really pleased with how I went at Trials in this, and I want to pick up more events in the future!"
Australia decided to go against using her in the relay despite leading off the heats swim in 54.1, using Felicity Galvez instead which caused questions to be raised about continuing bias. Foster responded,
"They thought that was the team they needed in the final and maybe if I had gone 53.9 that would've taken me through but I had a look at the rankings and I think that put me as the 11th fastest woman in the world, and I would have made the semifinal this morning with that time so overall I'm just happy I got to have that swim!"
Back with the men's 200 breast, Swimming World talked to Henrique Barbosa about entering so highly ranked in the 100 breast, then missing the podium.
"I came thinking about every step right. My first goal was to swim the heats, then to swim the semi finals and if I could be so lucky, then the finals. I was expecting to do my best time but I didn't. Even though I was ranked so high coming in it didn't change my levels of confidence. I was feeling good about getting a middle lane in the heats, and then later on became the first guy in Brazil to make the final of that event."
As one of the highlights of Night 4, Felipe Silva, despite being the number 1 ranked 50 breast male entering Worlds, was still able to experience to primal emotion in making the podium in second position. "Silva gets Silver", there I had to say it. Last year, Cesar Cielo, also of Brazil could not control his emotions either when taking the top position in the 50 Free in Beijing. Barbosa responded,
"I think two years ago we had two or three finals. We never thought about medals. Even though he was ranked first or second he still had to come here and race against the rest. And I think coming from a poor family it made it more emotional for him, especially coming from Brazil where we don't have ideal conditions so he deserves this and well done to him!"
Finally, Aaron Peirsol commented on his missing the 100 back by saying, "Oh wasn't that weeks ago? Gosh, I haven't even thought about it lately. Just focusing on this 200 now. But I'll tell you what, I haven't watched a 100 back final from the stands in a LONG time!"
The journalists had their go in the pool today. A competition where you had to predict what time you'd swim in the 50 free, and the person who swam closest to that time would win. Seeing Steve Parry, the Athens medalist and now BBC reporter, trying to get into a LZR was, unparalleled to anything I've ever witnessed.