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By David Rieder
BARCELONA, Spain, July 29. THE second night of finals at the FINA World Championships had the marks of a disappointing day for the United States. Dana Vollmer, the world and Olympic champion and world record-holder in the women’s 100 fly, had finished a distant third place in the event’s final, while young breaststrokers Kevin Cordes and Nic Fink had finished seventh and eighth in the final of the 100 breast, both failing to break 1:00. Caitlin Leverenz would go on to record a fifth-place finish in the women’s 200 IM, much slower than her bronze medal performance at the Olympics a year ago.
Eugene Godsoe would change the tune of the night for the stars and stripes. He had snuck into the final of the men’s 50 fly, beating out hometown favorite Rafael Munoz by just three one-hundredths of a second. His semi-final time of 23.16 already lowered his 23.29 mark that won U.S. Nationals. Still, he would swim the final from lane eight, and five men had broken 23 seconds in the semi-finals. Godsoe proceeded to show his American teammates how little that fact mattered. He got off to a good start and swam his own race, away from the rough waters in the middle of the pool, and he touched in 23.05.
In the semi-finals, 23.05 would have been good for seventh place and a spot in the final; tonight, it earned the Stanford product a silver medal, the first American medal in the event since Ian Crocker won silver back in 2007. On a night of otherwise disappointing finishes, Godsoe pumped some energy and excitement back into the American crowd and team with his performance. With all eyes focused on the big sprinters in the middle of the pool, such as Brazilians Cesar Cielo and Nicholas Santos and Frenchmen Florent Manaudou and Fred Bousquet, an American breaking in qualifies as a major surprise.
The Americans hope that Godsoe’s swim will be the spark that ignites an outburst of medals, as often happens around the third day of an eight day meet. For example, a four-gold-medal three-world-record rampage on day three put the Americans on track to 20 of a possible 40 gold medals at the 2007 Worlds. Jason Lezak’s relay heroics gave way to a similar third day at the Olympics a year later. Dana Vollmer’s 100 fly victory on day two, the first for the Americans at the 2011 World Champs, put the Americans on track for 14 total at that meet.
Tomorrow, the Americans can capitalize on that momentum quickly and decisively. Ryan Lochte enters the 200 free as the defending World champion and number two seed, while Missy Franklin and Matt Grevers each hold the top seed as they try to replicate their Olympic gold medals in the 100 back. Katie Ledecky, meanwhile, should be favored to win her second event of the meet in the 1500 after her near-record performance in the 400 free on Sunday. Don’t count out an American medal in the other final on the day, the women’s 100 breast, especially if Jessica Hardy can replicate or approach her 1:05.18 prelim time.
The Americans have won six medals, two of them gold, in eight finals at the World Championships so far, with a slim lead in the medal tally over Australia. The U.S. could win 7 additional medals on Tuesday, including four golds. The opportunity will come, and the momentum now favors the Americans after Godsoe ushered in a shift in that direction. While one silver medal doesn’t seem like a huge occasion, the swim brought excitement and energy that will carry the Americans through the next couple of days. Moreover, Godsoe’s 50 brings promise of his 100 fly and potentially a big boost to the American men’s medley relay. Godsoe raced tough and against the odds brought home a medal. Don’t be surprised it that gives the Americans momentum to rally on day three and beyond.
Check out David Rieder’s Facebook page to see more of his thoughts on the FINA World Championships and his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.