Katinka Hosszu at the 2012 Indian Ocean Meet.
Courtesy of: French Swimming Federation
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Commentary by Jeff Commings

BARCELONA, Spain, July 28. THE numbers on the results sheets of any prelims session at a major championships can be misleading. On first glance at the times from the top seeds after the first prelims session of swimming at the world championships, one might think we're not going to see some incredibly fast times in the Palau Sant Jordi.


You would be wrong.

Brace yourself for some great racing tonight in finals. We could see a few surprising athletes on the medal stand tonight, and some interesting top qualifiers in semifinal races.

From my perspective, the most exciting swims of prelims today came from Hungary's Katinka Hosszu and American Elizabeth Beisel in the women's 200 individual medley. While Hosszu was expected to move on to tonight's semifinals, Beisel was a wild card, never having swum this event at the world championship level. Hosszu's 2:08.45 to lead qualifiers into semifinals surprised even herself.

"I expected somewhere around 2:10, 2:11," Hosszu said after the race, "so that's the best feeling when a swimmer touches the wall and it's much faster than I thought it was."

Hosszu attacked each leg of the race in heat five, outsplitting world record holder Ye Shiwen -- swimming in the next lane -- on every leg but backstroke. Hosszu has major experience at the world championships in this event, winning the bronze medal back in 2009 and sixth in 2011. Her 2:08.4 will be competitive in the final, but I feel it won't win gold. Ye will be faster, and Coutts might as well, depending on her ability to recover from the 100 fly final about an hour earlier.

As for Beisel, she has obviously chosen to use this as a chance to win a medal, and not just get in a warm-up swim before the 400 IM. I was pleasantly surprised that Beisel had the fastest backstroke split, and one of three splits under 31 seconds.

Judging by the times, Hosszu was the only swimmer in the women's 200 IM top five to put full effort into her swim. We'll probably see a little more effort from the rest tonight, though it's likely that no one will approach Hosszu's prelim swim.

Nerves for world record holder? At the 2011 world championships and the 2012 Olympics, Dana Vollmer rolled through prelims with times that no one else was able to touch, and was consistent through semifinals and finals. Today, she didn't look like her usual self, even though she qualified first with a 57.22.

"I know I can be faster once I calm my nerves," she said.

It looked like nerves might have also gotten the better of Matt McLean, who missed out on a spot in the finals of the 400 freestyle after a 3:49.74 put him in 13th place. He and Chloe Sutton were the only Americans unable to get a second swim tonight, with Sutton placing 10th overall in the 400 free. It should be noted that Sutton's 4:07.16 prelim swim is only five tenths slower than she swam at the U.S. nationals a month ago.

Speaking of nervous jitters, they certainly didn't affect Myles Brown of South Africa, through to the big final of the men's 400 freestyle. His 3:47.17 put Ryk Neethling's national record of 3:46.31 from 1999 on notice. With Cameron van der Burgh, Chad Le Clos and Roland Schoeman typically dominating swimming headlines in South Africa, it's likely that Brown will be the big star of the night if he can not only beat that record, but ascend to the medal podium.

Team seating in the Palau Sant Jordi doesn't seem to be very favorable for watching races. The United States and other top teams are relegated to the bleachers behind the medal stand, which is about 100 feet behind the starting blocks. I expected most of the teams to get seats along the length of the pool, but very few got that honor. If you're a top swimmer doing freestyle at this meet, you won't see your coaches and teammates waving you on from the sidelines.

Is this the FIFA World Cup? The vuvuzelas are out in force here in the Palau Sant Jordi. The Czech Republic has one in use for all of their athletes, but I heard a few more throughout the arena. The crowd got more excited about the competition as the session wore on, but they all politely applauded at the end of each race -- with the exception of the heats that saw Rafael Munoz (50 fly) and Melanie Costa Schmid (400 free) touch first.

Relays set up for intense battles. The men's 400 freestyle relay will be a scorcher. The Russians didn't show their hands at all, leaving Vladimir Morozov off the prelim squad, and only Danila Izotov splitting under 48 seconds in the heats. The Americans will have Nathan Adrian in the final, with Ryan Lochte likely rested for tonight. Based on splits from prelims, Anthony Ervin's 47.38 and Ricky Berens' 47.56 should be good enough to get them into the final. As for the women, it's a no-brainer that Megan Romano's 53.24 puts her into the finals, but who joins her, Missy Franklin and Shannon Vreeland? Based on her 54.23 leadoff leg, Simone Manuel is the best choice, but you also can't go wrong with Natalie Coughlin. She split 54.09, and that is a strong morning swim. Australia will be tough as well, as will the Netherlands. The big question remains: Will Adrian, Morozov and Australia's James Magnussen swim leadoff legs, giving us a preview of the 100 freestyle final to come in four days? These three are the top gold medal contenders, and a sub-48 second leadoff from these three will set up their relays nicely, giving them all clean water, instead of letting their top swimmers fight through waves and try to make up lost ground. The Australians will be in lane three in tonight's final, with the USA in lane four and Russia in five. It will be the last event of the night, and my most anticipated of the day.

I'm leading a live discussion of tonight's finals starting at 5 pm Barcelona time (11 am Eastern, 8 am Pacific) on swimmingworld.com. You're more than welcome to join me and give your feedback on what will be an exciting night in Barcelona!