By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 14. THE stage has been set for one of the biggest showdowns of the competition on the male side. It'll be Aaron Peirsol vs. Ryan Lochte for gold in the 200 backstroke, an event in which the men share the world record. Last month, Peirsol narrowly edged Lochte at the U.S. Olympic Trials, tying Lochte's world mark of 1:54.32.
Racing in the first semifinal, Peirsol looked smooth en route to a time of 1:55.26. Earlier in the meet, Peirsol took it easy during the opening-two rounds of the 100 backstroke before dropping the hammer in the final and setting a world record on the way to defending his title. Peirsol, again, can be anticipated to go much faster, probably under world-record time.
With Lochte in the adjacent lane, Peirsol will probably have to go a global standard if he wants to retain his Olympic title. Lochte won the second semifinal in 1:55.40, then immediately began preparing for his semifinal of the 200 individual medley. Lochte is trying to pull off one of the most difficult doubles in Olympic annals, with just 30 minutes between his finals tomorrow morning.
The silver medalist from the Athens Games, Austria's Markus Rogan qualified third in 1:56.34, slightly faster than the 1:56.35 by Japan's Ryosuke Irie and the 1:56.45 turned in by Romania's Razvan Florea. Great Britain's Gregor Tait was next in 1:56.72 and Australia's Hayden Stoeckel, the co-bronze medalist in the 100 back, was seventh in 1:56.73. A swimoff is needed to determine the eighth position as Germany's Helge Meeuw and Russian Arkady Vyatchanin tied in 1:56.85.
Vyatchanin completely owned the swimoff at the end of the session, beating Meeuw, 1:57.75 to 2:00.97.