BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, November 25. WITH seven meets in just more than a month, the 2007 FINA World Cup circuit came to an end with the final session in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The United States' Randall Bal might as well have called "Blackjack" when he finished an astounding 21-for-21 sweep of the backstroke events at the World Cup series. While many other swimmers on the tour may have posted more impressive single performances, or even performances over a single meet, no one proved more consistent as Bal proved to be a globetrotter during the World Cup series. He will get to cash a $100,000 check for his troubles.
Meanwhile, Sweden's Therese Alshammar will pick up a check for the same amount after winning the women's overall standings. Although she did not swim in every meet, she still demonstrated the most consistency as she also traveled the world en route to the overall World Cup title.
Men's 1500 freestyle
Brazil claimed a 1-2-3 sweep in the men's distance event to start the morning as Luiz Arapiraca touched in a first-place time of 15:19.32. Meanwhile, Lucas Kanieski grabbed silver in 15:22.96. Matheus Ribeiro completed the top three sweep in 15:32.96.
Women's 100 freestyle
Sweden's Josefin Lillhage won her second gold medal of the meet with a top time in the women's 100 free when she touched in 53.81. The speed of the Berlin stop rang through as Lillhage's season-best time of 52.84 from that meet was nearly a second faster than this morning's mark.
South Africa's Lize-Mari Retief nearly took down her country's national record with a second-place time of 54.50. That time came up just short of the 54.42 set by Helen Muller in 2002.
Brazil's Tatiana Barbosa rounded out the podium with a third-place time of 54.58, also a bit off her nation's record of 54.02 by Rebeca Gusmao from 2005. However, that mark could be considered drug tainted now, after Gusmao tested positive for drug use this summer.
Men's 200 freestyle
Brazil's Rodrigo Castro won by nearly two body lengths in the men's 200 free as he dipped under the 1:46 mark with a time of 1:45.89. That performance put him closer to the Brazilian record of 1:44.40 set by Gustavo Borges in 1998 – the longest-standing individual standard in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Castro's teammate Luca Salatta pocketed silver in a time of 1:48.11 as he held off South Africa's Wesley Gilchrist for second place. The South African touched in 1:48.44 for third.
Women's 50 breaststroke
Brazil's Tatiana Sakemi added the sprint breast title to her 100 breast win with a time of 32.70 as she dominated the field. Meanwhile, teammates Natalia Favoreto and Renata Sander completed the top three as the duo tied for second with matching times of 33.34.
Men's 100 breaststroke
Brazilian record holder Eduardo Fischer dipped into the sub-minute range to give the fans something to cheer for when he clocking a winning time of 59.89. While still well off his record swim of 59.30 set in 2003, he still moved into the top 10 in the world this year behind Hugues Duboscq (59.80).
Meanwhile, Henrique Barbosa, the Brazilian record holder in the 200, placed second in 1:00.04, while Russia's Dmitry Komornikov took third in 1:00.56 – off his season-best time of 1:00.04 set at the Sydney World Cup stop.
Women's 400 IM
Brazil's Joanna Maranhao dominated the race from the start as she won by several body lengths with a time of 4:42.29. The win gave her a third gold medal for the meet after winning a pair on the first day of swimming. While still a dominant time compared to the rest of the field, Maranhao came up short of her season-best readout of 4:39.61 set at the Durban stop.
Meanwhile, teammates Livia Carvalho Dos Santos and Debora Cruz placed second and third, respectively. Dos Santos grabbed silver with a time of 4:47.13, while Cruz touched in 4:56.75 to complete the top three for Brazil.
Men's 100 butterfly
Brazil's Fernando Silva overtook the field with a strong backhalf when he stopped the clock in 51.45 to win the men's 100 fly. The performance cut his season-best time of 52.08 set at the Moscow stop and moved him into fifth in the world this year behind Evgeny Korotyshkin's 51.10.
Silva, however, showboated a bit after the win as he sat on the lane line in celebration of his swim. He still has a ways to go until he catches the Brazilian record of 50.62 set by Kaio Almeida in 2005.
South Africa's Lyndon Ferns, the South African record holder in the event, placed second in 51.76 to join Silva in the world's top 10 this year. Meanwhile, Almeida pocketed bronze in 51.87.
Women's 100 backstroke
The United States' Natalie Coughlin used superior wall work to completely dominate the field en route to a winning effort of 59.88. After setting the world record last month with a time of 56.51, Coughlin coasted in the final 25 meters to gear up for other races later this session
Germany's Christin Zenner, one of the youngest competitors in the field at just 16, placed second in 1:01.91, while Fernanda Alvarenga of Brazil took third in 1:03.27.
Men's 50 backstroke
The United States' Randall Bal, who already has the $100,000 grand prize for the overall World Cup standings, made it 20-for-20 in backstroke events on the circuit with a swift time of 23.62. While still off his American record time of 23.33 set in Berlin, it still was a tremendous swim considering the fact it came during a morning session.
Meanwhile, South African record holder Gerhard Zandberg clocked a second-place time of 24.07, a bit off his standard of 23.67 set in Berlin.
Brazil's Guilherme Guido, who is the disputed Brazilian record holder in the event with a time of 24.59 lowered his standard with a 24.42. However, as pointed out by Alex Pussieldi of Bestswimming.com.br, Alex Massura owns a 50-meter backstroke leadoff swim of 24.01 from March 24, 2001 at the NCAA Championships that year and may be the uncrowned national record holder in the event.
Women's 200 butterfly
South Africa's Keri Shaw controlled the women's longer distance butterfly event with a strong stroke throughout the race. She stopped the clock in 2:10.39, while Daiene Dias placed second for Brazil in 2:14.23. Livia Carvalho Dos Santos emerged with a third-place time of 2:15.87.
Men's 200 IM
Newly-minted world record holder Thiago Pereira, the definite crowd favorite at this meet, did not let the crowd down with a stellar final time of 1:54.58 that gave him a half-a-pool victory over the field. "Thi-a-go, Thi-a-go!" was heard after the swim as he claimed an incredible win for his second gold of the meet. The morning swim could be felt, however, as Pereira was more than a second off his world-record swim of 1:53.14 set just days ago.
Pereira's compatriot Henrique Rodrigues won a close fight for second with a time of 2:00.59, while Australia's Adam Lucas settled for third with a time of 2:00.72.
Women's 400 freestyle
After staying in a lower gear throughout the first half of the race, Sweden's Josefin Lillhage snagged her third gold medal of the meet with a superior back half of the race en route to a winning time of 4:11.50 – well off her prelim time of 4:05.80.
The battle came for second place as a trio of swimmers all made a run for the silver medal. Brazil's Monique Ferreira touched first for that part of the race with a time of 4:14.32, while Brazil's Paula Ribeiro claimed third with some outside smoke after clocking a 4:14.56 from lane eight.
Brazilian record holder Mariana Brochado, who hung with Lillhage throughout the initial stages of the race including several leads, fell back to fourth in 4:14.92.
Men's 50 freestyle
South Africa's Roland Schoeman utilized an outstanding start to post a season-best time of 21.38 in the men's splash-and-dash, claiming in the title the Meet's Fastest Man. His previous top time of 21.39 was the third-fastest in the world this year behind Stefan Nystrand's world record 20.93 and Eamon Sullivan's 21.31 until Schoeman clipped it by .01 seconds.
Fernando Silver picked up second place in a sterling time of 21.75 to move into the top 10 in the world this year, while Australia's Jonathon Newton and South Africa's Gerhard Zandberg tied for bronze with matching 21.81s.
Women's 200 breaststroke
Brazil's Tatiane Sakemi secured a breaststroke sweep by a significant margin in the women's longer distance event. She finished the event with a time of 2:31.37, well off a potential Brazilian record time of 2:28.86 set by Marcelle Lopes in 2002.
Meanwhile, fellow Brazilians Thamy Ventorin and Renata Sander rounded out the podium with second and third-place finishes, respectively. Ventorin clocked in at 2:35.85, while Sander provided some outside smoke with a third-place time of 2:37.32 from lane one.
Women's 100 IM
The United States' Natalie Coughlin, swimming in her favorite event, earned her third gold medal of the meet with a time of 59.81 – just a second off her world record of 58.80. Not bad for a morning swim. She also finished a bit short of her world-leading time this year of 59.12 set at the Singapore stop of the World Cup.
Incidentally, Coughlin has been lobbying to add a 100 IM event over the long course with a 10-meter buffer zone to switch strokes in the middle of the pool. It is an interesting idea that might be fun to watch implemented as an exhibition event at some long course meet.
Meanwhile, a pair of Brazilians took second and third as Joanna Maranhao placed second in 1:03.62, while Julyana Kury took third in 1:04.32.
Men's 200 backstroke
The United States' Randall Bal completed a remarkable backstroke sweep of the entire World Cup circuit with his 21st title when he clocked in at 1:53.18. He had to hold off Russia's Arkady Vyatchanin, who wound up taking second place in 1:54.17 as he pushed Bal the entire race. Brazil's Luca Salatta rounded out the top three with a time of 1:56.80.
The times were well off the top times this season for each swimmer, but morning finals as well as swimming outdoors for the first time must have made an impact on their times.
Women's 50 butterfly
Sweden's Therese Alshammar completed her own World Cup standings victory to cut a huge check of $100,000 when she clocked a time of 25.69 in the women's sprint fly. Once again during the World Cup, she scared her compatriot's world record of 25.33 set by Anna-Karin Kammerling in 2006. However, after a 25.47 in Berlin and a 25.69 in this final meet, she will have to wait until a later date to take another shot at the global standard.
Meanwhile, South Africa's Lize-Mari Retief shot down her own national standard of 26.03 set in Pietermaritzburg in October with her first sub-26 time. Retief concluded the race with a second-place time of 25.90.
Brazil's Jamilla Marson also gave the heat another national record, this time with a third-place readout of 27.16. She eclipsed the 27.30 set by Flavia Delaroli in 2005.