FINA World Championships, Swimming: Ryan Lochte Has Chance to Elevate Status Even Further

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Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer

SHANGHAI, China, July 25. TO say this morning's heats of the 200 freestyle were a Yawn-Fest would be an understatement, as the top guns – expectedly – cruised through their morning swims like they were taking a bath. Tonight, though, will be a different story. Look for the semifinals of the event to be sensational as a stacked field battles for the eight coveted berths to the championship final.

Although yesterday's 400 freestyle was pegged to be a dandy, the 200 free – at least for this writer – has been the can't-miss event of the World Championships. The firepower is downright scary, paced by the presence of Michael Phelps, Tae Hwan Park and Ryan Lochte. We could very well see a big-time name shut out from the final.

The four-lap freestyle is Lochte's first chance to further his pursuit of Phelps' title of World's Best Swimmer. Although Lochte was the undisputed king of 2010 as evidenced by his Swimming World World Swimmer of the Year award, thanks to his six gold medals from the Pan Pacific Championships, he needs another extraordinary performance on the international stage to bump Phelps from his throne. And, truthfully, no matter what Phelps does the remainder of his career, his legacy is firmly established.

Still, Lochte has a chance to enhance his status and nothing would help more than a victory in an event that features ridiculous talent. In Phelps, he could knock off the most decorated Olympian of all-time. In Park, he'll tangle with the reigning Olympic champ in the 400 free, an event Park claimed on Sunday night at the World Champs.

Meanwhile, Lochte's portfolio would be boosted by bettering the likes of Paul Biedermann, the defending world champ and world-record holder, and Yannick Agnel, the rising French teenage star. The only international stars not in the event are China's Sun Yang, who has opted to focus on the 400 free and up, and Ian Thorpe, the Australian legend in the middle of his comeback.

Lochtehas always been fueled by a challenge and has long believed himself capable of beating Phelps, a mentality that not all competitors have fostered. Now is the Floridian's opportunity to get the job done.

**Can anyone argue the fact that Alain Bernard has earned a reputation for small-time performances when the pressure is on in relay situations? We all know what happened to the Frenchman at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and now Bernard's poor leadoff leg at these World Championships cost France the major international gold medal it has chased for the past few years.

Bernard looked good in the morning prelims of the 400 freestyle relay on the opening day of competition, clocking in at 48.37. In the championship final, however, he smacked the pads in 48.75, ultimately losing the title for the French. As the reigning Olympic champ in the 100 free, he has no excuse for his inability to deliver in relay duty.

**Question of the Morning: Can anyone touch Dana Vollmer in tonight's final of the 100 butterfly? And, how close will she come to the world record of 56.06?

**A revelation hit me this morning while scanning the pool deck. I've figured out the easiest job in the world: It's held by the individuals who represent Shanghai Life Saving, the company charged with lifeguarding duties at the competition.

**Following the retirement of Aaron Peirsol, the United States is in need of a backstroker who can contend for hardware internationally, but also provide the medley relay with the stability and excellence Peirsol always provided. The challenge at the World Champs falls to Nick Thoman and David Plummer.

Both swimmers easily advanced to the semifinals of the 100 backstroke, Plummer touching the wall in 53.68 and Thoman checking in at 54.15. The real story will be told in the semifinals, as neither man is guaranteed to get through. Certainly, the United States would love to see a 52-point performance out of one the men.

**Maybe illness will be the new taper for the Australians. First, James Magnussen rebounds from a bout of pneumonia to carry his country to gold in the 400 freestyle relay. A day later, Emily Seebohm shook off various maladies during the year to advance to the semifinals of the 100 backstroke with a time of 59.87. That effort was third-quickest of the session.

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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