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Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
SHANGHAI, China, July 29. WHEN she came along as a teenager, she was compared with Janet Evans, the greatest distance swimmer the sport has known. For a while, it appeared Kate Ziegler was on an arc to flourish like her idol, especially when she demolished Evans' world record in the 1500 freestyle in the Summer of 2007.
A year later, however, Ziegler didn't put together the Olympic Games she had envisioned, failing to qualify for the championship final in either of her events, the 400 (14th) and 800 (10th) freestyles. Following the Beijing Games, she battled illness and basically disappeared from the sport's radar. Eventually, Ziegler opted to train with Jon Urbanchek with FAST.
What a great decision.
Ziegler has emerged once again on the international distance stage, evidenced by her silver-medal performance earlier in the World Champs in the 1500 freestyle. During the preliminaries of Day 6 at the Oriental Sports Center's Indoor Stadium, Ziegler qualified for the championship final in the 800 free in the No. 4 position, just behind teammate Chloe Sutton.
The way Ziegler looks, another medal could be added to her collection when the championship final of the 800 free is held tomorrow night. Beyond that race, her focus will turn to preparing for the Olympic Trials in Omaha. Without the 1500 free as an Olympic event, Ziegler will attempt to reach London in the same events she contested in Beijing. While her longer events are rounding into shape, there is work to do for the 400 free.
Additionally, Ziegler will have her hands full with quality fields in both of her disciplines. The 400 free is expected to feature Chloe Sutton, Katie Hoff and Allison Schmitt while Sutton will be a foe in the 800 free as well. Hoff, too, could race the 800 free, as was the case at the 2008 Olympics.
"My endurance is back, which is great," Ziegler said after the 1500 free. "Last summer, I would swim the mile and die. Now, I feel strong. I'm still working on the speed, so that's still a struggle. But this summer I have swam well and it's been really fun. I'm appreciating it so much."
**Question of the Morning: Given the way Michael Phelps performed in the 200 individual medley, can he carry that momentum into a sub-50 performance in the 100 butterfly?
**The 200 freestyle leadoff leg (1:55.06) supplied by Missy Franklin as the United States won the 800 free relay is still difficult to digest and it has many abuzz over what the 16-year-old might be able to accomplish at the 2012 Olympics in London. Although there are some conflicts to work out, Franklin could embrace a schedule that includes both backstroke events and the 100 and 200 freestyles, along with three relays.
As unfair as it may be to put the pressure on her young shoulders, you can bet that Franklin, heading into the United States Olympic Trials in Omaha, will be viewed as a potential female version of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. That's what happens these days with any multi-event talent.
**The French results have been mixed for sure. While Jeremy Stravius and Camille Lacourt shared gold in the 100 backstroke and William Meynard flourished in the 100 freestyle, there have been negative results. The most notable shortcoming arrived in the preliminaries of the 50 freestyle, when top-seeded Fred Bousquet finished 21st, failing to advance to the semifinals.
Finishing just ahead of Bousquet, in a disappointment for the United States, was Cullen Jones. The man who won a swimoff with Josh Schneider to race at the World Champs was timed in 22.37. Another poor showing came from Milorad Cavic in the 100 butterfly, as he failed to qualify for the semifinals after placing 18th in the 100 butterfly.
**The long wait to race for Elizabeth Beisel came to an end on the sixth morning of action as she got rolling in the 200 backstroke. The University of Florida standout clocked in at 2:08.40, good for the third-fastest time of the morning. Missy Franklin led the way in qualifying with a mark of 2:07.71.
**Going to revisit the Ian Thorpe comeback topic that was raised here a few days ago. In the final of the 100 freestyle, only two men broke the 48-second barrier. However, the eighth-place time was 48.27, nearly three tenths quicker than Thorpe's personal best from his heyday. Although now training for the 100 and 200 freestyles, rather than the 200 and 400 free events, it's difficult to see Thorpe getting into the range needed to be a major contender at the Olympic Games.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn