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Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
SHANGHAI, China, July 26. REPRESENTING a country with the two biggest names in the sport leaves minimal room for headline-grabbing opportunities. Such is the scenario encountered by Tyler Clary since he's emerged as a multi-event talent for the United States. Could this meet provide the recognition he deserves?
After biding his time during the first two days of competition, Clary made his debut as these World Championships Tuesday morning. The former University of Michigan standout, now training under Jon Urbanchek with FAST, earned the No. 4 seed for the semifinals of the 200 butterfly. It's the first of three events for Clary, also slated to contest the 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley.
Clary has long been a budding star, from his days on the National Junior Team to his showings at the 2008 Olympic Trials, where Clary was third in the 200 backstroke and fourth in the 400 IM. While he has international hardware to his name, including a silver medal in the 400 IM from the 2009 World Championships, Clary is looking for that breakthrough gold medal on the world stage.
The 200 fly is the least likely event for Clary to get the job done, but he has the potential to come through in his other two events. Much of the focus for the 200 backstroke has been placed on Ryan Lochte and Japan's Ryosuke Irie, but Clary has been strong in his tuneup events and will give those guys all they can handle. As for the 400 IM, Clary's chances could hinge on his ability to remain in touch with Lochte on the breaststroke leg.
It's a matter of time before Clary becomes a champion at a major event. Could it be here?
**Question of the Morning: In light of his semifinal performance in the 200 freestyle, where he notched the fifth-fastest qualifying time, what do you predict for an outcome for Michael Phelps in the championship final?
**Speaking of Michael Phelps, is it time to be concerned? Considering his prowess in the 200 butterfly, the event that placed him on the international map back in 2000, Phelps doesn't have to call on much strength during the preliminaries of his pet discipline. Still, it's not often we see the most-decorated Olympian in history qualify in 11th for a semifinal.
We'll have a much better idea after tonight's final of the 200 free and semifinal of the 200 fly, but Phelps' admitted lack of training over the past few years could be catching up with him. If that is the case, look for Phelps to really ratchet things up in the leadup to the United States Olympic Trials and London Games. There is no way he will allow his farewell to be mediocre.
**Racing out of the last of the unseeded heats in the 200 freestyle, Slovenia's Sara Isakovic delivered a strong performance, furthering the strong meet put forth by the ladies from Cal Aquatics. Easing her way through the water, Isakovic easily won her preliminary in 1:58.01. Although the time was good for only 10th entering the semifinals, look for Isakovic to go faster with better competition.
American Allison Schmitt led qualifying in 1:56.66, just ahead of the 1:56.87 of Italy's Federica Pellegrini, the defending Olympic champion and world-record holder. With Australians Bronte Barratt and Kyle Palmer, along with France's Camille Muffat and Dutchwoman Femke Heemskerk, this 200 freestyle is shaping up to be as stellar as the male version of the event.
**As easy as Sun Yang made things look in the prelims of the 800 freestyle, where he clocked 7:45.29 for the top seed into tomorrow's final, the story of the event has to be Pal Joensen. From the Faroe Islands, Joensen went 7:45.55 for the No. 2 seed and the 21st-fastest time in the event's history. It would be good for the sport to see such a small nation like the Faroe Islands, which does not have a 50-meter pool, represented on the podium.
**Good news for the United States out of a team-contested swimoff following the morning session. Dagny Knutson covered the 200 freestyle in 1:56.91 with Jasmine Tosky clocking in at 1:58.15. That Knutson registered that kind of time is a huge plus for the 800 free relay.
**Wanted to pass along a little insight from Erik Boal, a journalist for the Los Angeles Daily News who does a tremendous job covering the sport at all levels. Boal e-mailed this comment last night in regards to Rebecca Soni: "To win a semifinal in the 100 at worlds by more than two seconds and be the top qualifier for the final by more than a second is downright scary."
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn