Guest editorial by John Craig
PHOENIX, Arizona, August 28. IT's been three weeks since the Olympic swimming events ended, we've had time to digest what happened. A few notes:
* Florent Manaudou certainly chose the right time to cut a half second off his best time in the 50 free. There's never been another sprinter who's had such a big drop at such an auspicious time. Along with his older sister Laure, he's also part of the first sibling combo to both win individual golds in swimming.
* Nathan Adrian showed similarly excellent timing in dropping his personal best by half a second in the final of the men's 100 free.
* Yannick Agnel has 46.7 100 speed (off a relay start) and 3:43.8 400 endurance. Anybody who wants to beat him in the 200 is going to need comparable times at both ends. That seems a tall order.
* Sun Yang's performances were no surprise. There's never been another swimmer who looks quite so easy splitting 58's in the middle of his 1500. And his 25.68 for his last 50 was, once again, the fastest closing lap ever.
* The USA's 1-2 finish in the 100 back was impressive. Given how close the race for second place was at US Trials, there were undoubtedly a couple guys sitting at home gnashing their teeth and thinking, “I could have won that silver medal too.” They're probably right.
* Ryosuke Irie was probably thinking that his 200 back had gone exactly as planned as he passed Ryan Lochte in the last 10 meters. Imagine his disappointment when he saw that the guy (Tyler Clary) on the other side of Lochte had gone even faster.
* Cameron van der Burgh has been made out to be a bad guy for his admission that he cheated at the start of the 100 breast. He did cheat — unquestionably — and as that video showed, so did several other swimmers. But he could have said that he was unaware that he had done it, or that it was unintentional, or made some other similarly disingenuous statement. And had he lied, there might have been less controversy. But his instinct was just to be honest, which, when you think about it, doesn't really fit the definition of a bad guy. (Nonetheless, this does prove the need for underwater cameras.)
* It was pretty obvious that Daniel Gyurta was going to do something special in the 200 breast after he did his best 100 breast by more than half a second earlier in the week. His gold medal was a long time coming, and also seems to have come just in the nick of time, what with the 18-year-old Akihiro Yamaguchi just having swum a 2:07.8.
* After Michael Phelps went a 50.86 in the semis of the 100 fly, after his 47.1 relay split in the 100 free, it seemed he was going to do something really outstanding in the finals. He didn't go as fast as expected, but the second threepeat was actually more outstanding than a fast time would have been.
* Chad le Clos never made any secret of the fact that Michael Phelps is his hero. He has videos of Phelps' 100 fly victory in seven different languages on his computer, and even took up the 200 free this past year “just because Michael swims it.” Tyler Clary gave that infamous newspaper interview in which he criticized Phelps' work ethic. Phelps would have hated losing the 200 fly under any circumstances; but he was probably a touch less chagrined to be beaten by le Clos than he would have been to be beaten by Clary.
* There couldn't have been many people who weren't rooting for Phelps to get his first threepeat by the time the finals of the 200 IM rolled around.
* Had Lochte not wound his swim down in the last few strokes, he would have broken 4:05 in the 400 IM. As it is, his 4:05.18 in textile is probably a better swim than Phelps' WR of 4:03.84 in LZR leggings. That, along with his official world record in the 200 IM, makes him the fastest medleyist ever.
* Ranomi Kromowidjojo had the most understated reaction of any gold medalist after she won the 100 free. The men tend to raise their arms and pound the water in triumph. The women tend to look at the scoreboard in disbelief, put their hands on their mouths, then hug the nearest competitor. Kromowidjojo just looked at the scoreboard, rested her chin on the back of her hand, gazed at the scoreboard a while longer, then smiled shyly. A refreshing change.
* Allison Schmitt's 1:53.6 is a far better swim than Pellegrini's tech suited WR of 1:52.98. She took charge of that event from the start, and was in a race of her own by the finish. It will be fun to watch her final college season this year.
* Camille Muffat, winner of the 400 free, has a masterful stroke; her powerful kick and catchup stroke are very reminiscent of Ian Thorpe's. She always looks as if she's just biding her time before picking up the pace.
* Hard not to feel a little sorry for Rebecca Adlington. Coming into the 800 freestyle, she was the 1 – 2 betting favorite with the British bookmakers, meaning you had to bet two dollars on her to win one. She was the defending Olympic champion in the 800 free, the world record holder at 8:14.1 (a time set in a tech suit), and had the fastest time in the world to that point this year at 8:18. Fifteen year old Katie Ledecky, who had won the US Trials with an 8:19, was going off at 18 – 1, meaning if you bet one dollar on her to win, you could get 18 in return.
* The TV announcers kept saying that the British swimmers were being helped by the roar of the hometown crowd. But to this point, the only British swimmer who had performed up to expectations was 200 breaststroker Michael Jamiesen (who in fact performed beyond them). Virtually every other British swimmer had fallen short. The pressure from that hometown crowd evidently cut both ways.
Adlington must have felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. Afterwards in her comments to the British media she was almost apologetic. There was no need for that: she was magnificent in her triumphs in Beijing, and noble in her bronze medal efforts in London.
Meanwhile, with Ledecky, we seem to have a girl who has an honest chance at becoming the next Janet Evans.
* Ruta Meilutyte was another one of those “in the Olympic year they come out of the woodwork” stories which he hear much more rarely these days than we did 30 years ago.
* Rebecca Soni was magnificent. This fan can't recall another event in recent memory where the winner broke the world record in the semifinals, then broke it again in finals. At Worlds in Barcelona in '03, the men's world record in the 100 fly was broken in the first semifinal, again in the second semifinal, and yet again in finals. But it was three different swimmers (Serdinov, then Phelps, then Crocker) who did that.
It's nice for aspiring young swimmers to see a champion of normal size: Soni is only 5' 4″. The shortest woman on America's winning 4 x 200 meter free relay, by contrast, was six feet tall.
* Missy Franklin was a touch off her freestyle times from last year (using her 52.79 relay leg in Shanghai as a basis for comparison), but her backstroke was unstoppable. Extrapolating performances is often a mistake in swimming, but it's hard not to think about how fast she could be with better starts and turns, and with more physical maturity. (Tall swimmers tend to reach their peaks later, as their muscles need more time to catch up with their bones.)
* It was good to see Dana Vollmer finally nab that world record along with the gold medal. In cases where the textile time is already obviously better than the tech-suited record, you have to root for the better swimmer to get the official recognition.
* FINA has a certain reputation for inflexibility, but it was good to see that the officials were flexible enough to not call false starts on Breeja Larson and Sun Yang. There's no question that Larson was not at fault, since the gun went off early in her race, but with Sun, had the officials decided to act FINA-like, thing could have gotten sticky. It would have been unfortunate had they done so. Maybe they were chastened by what happened the first day with Tae Hwan Park's DQ in the 400 freestyle being overturned.
* The trend in swimming has been towards taller swimmers since the 1970's; this was truly the Olympics of giants. Both Yannick Agnel and Matt Grevers are listed at 6'8″, and Nathan Adrian is 6' 7″. Florent Manaudou and Sun Yang, both listed at 6' 6″, are short by comparison.
* One of the best pieces of publicity swimming got in London was with that unscripted moment which showed Phelps and Lochte in the waiting room for the men's 200 IM semifinals celebrating with such great enthusiasm when teammate Nathan Adrian won the 100 free. They didn't know they were on national TV, and were just acting like themselves. That may actually have been one of the finest moments of the Games.
* Finally, it's gratifying to see that a few of the swimmers seem to be breaking into show business. Ryan Lochte may appear on The Bachelor and also Dancing with the Stars. Michael Phelps will be in a reality show about celebrities who want to improve their golf games. And Missy Franklin will have a cameo in a Owen Wilson – Vince Vaughn movie.
Who knows, maybe one of them will have a breakthrough. Johnny Weissmuller became Tarzan, and Buster Crabbe became Flash Gordon, and there really hasn't been anybody since. It's been far too long since a swimmer became a movie star.