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By John Lohn
LONDON, August 3. ONE of the best sights of the final preliminary session at the Olympic Games in London was Sweden's Therese Alshammar stepping onto the blocks for the women's 50 freestyle. Fighting a pinched nerve in her neck, Alshammar earlier dropped out of the 100 freestyle and was also forced to miss the 400 free relay.
As the reigning world champion in the 50 free and competing in her fifth Olympiad, it would have been a sad situation had the 34-year-old been forced to bow out of her specialty. Although still battling the effects of her injury, Alshammar moved into the semifinals of the 50 free as the sixth seed, courtesy of a time of 24.77.
In some ways, Alshammar is the Swedish version of Dara Torres. A sprint sensation, she has denied age to remain at the top level of her sport. Alshammar was a three-time Olympic medalist at the 2000 Games in Sydney, where she won silver medals in the 50 and 100 freestyles behind Dutchwoman Inge de Bruijn.
“The start is the major concern,” Alshammar said of her injury. “I am quite pleased I could go out and start in full speed. You want to have full movement. Being healthy is the most important thing. You want to be able to move unrestricted.”
Whether Alshammar can contend for a medal despite her aching neck remains to be seen. She certainly has the ability to get the job done, but the body doesn't always cooperate. If nothing else, it's a positive to see her competing at all considering the way the week had gone.
**Already the Olympic champion in the 400 freestyle and the silver medalist in the 200 free, China's Sun Yang will have a coronation swim tomorrow night. The world-record holder in the 1500 free is so far ahead of the competition in the metric mile that it is almost hard to believe. It's similar to the heyday of Australian Grant Hackett, whose global mark Sun broke at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai.
The prot?g? of Denis Cotterell, also the man who mentored Hackett, Sun cruised through the preliminaries in 14:43.25, the fastest time of the morning by nearly three seconds. The question isn't whether Sun will pick up his second gold medal of the Games, it is whether he will break his world record of 14:34.14. Or, it could be how close will Sun get to the 14:30 mark.
**Very fast morning prelim from Australia in the women's 400 medley relay as the quartet of Emily Seebohm, Leisel Jones, Alicia Coutts and Brittany Elmslie delivered a time of 3:55.42. The only change we'll probably see from the Australians will be the substitution of Melanie Schlanger onto the anchor leg.
The United States was fourth in the same heat as Australia, but there is no concern for Team USA. When the final is held tomorrow night, the first three legs will be handled by Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer. The question is who handles the anchor leg. Based on the way she's performed, Allison Schmitt is a good bet.
**Of the 13 occasions in which the men's 400 medley relay has been contested at the Olympics, the United States has won the event 12 times. The only miss was the 1980 Games in Moscow, which the United States boycotted on orders from President Jimmy Carter in response to the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.
Barring a stunning turn of events, the United States will remain perfect in its appearances in the event when the team of Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen, Michael Phelps and Nathan Adrian takes to the water. That's a formidable lineup which will feature three individual Olympic champs from these Games if Phelps prevails in the 100 butterfly tonight. Meanwhile, Hansen won the bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke to add to his comeback story.
**Why did some individuals and news outlets find it startling that Ryan Lochte was done racing after earning the silver medal in the 200 individual medley? Lochte never had a place on the 400 medley relay — in preliminaries or finals — so it was obvious that the shorter medley would mark the completion of his London Games.
**What a mess of a week for the German Swimming Federation. Through six days of competition, Germany has not captured a single medal. The best opportunity remaining is the men's 400 medley relay, which could battle for the bronze medal in a race which seems fairly wide open for the minor medals.
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