Some Awards at the Midway Point of the London Games

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By John Lohn

LONDON, August 1. WITH the start of the Day Five preliminaries, we are officially more than midway through the Olympic Games. Fatigue is starting to become an issue for athletes handling multi-event schedules, but the competition remains loaded with superb performances. Here are some first-half awards. Feel free to provide input on your own accolades, or to suggest someone else for those named below.

Most Emotional Win: That distinction goes to South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh, who honored his friend Alexander Dale Oen by prevailing in the 100 breaststroke, and in world-record time. Van der Burgh was tight with Dale Oen, who in late April died suddenly from cardiac arrest while training at altitude in Arizona. Dale Oen was the reigning world champion in the 100 breast.

“Alex helped me a lot,” van der Burgh said. “He took me under his wing. He helped me become who I am today. When I touched the wall and got the gold medal, I turned over and looked up to heaven. I feel he helped me because we had been so close. When someone has been in your life, they leave something there.”

Biggest Surprise (Male): Since we started these awards with a South African, we might as well stay there with this nod. Although Michael Phelps isn't in Beijing form, few thought he would finish second in the 200 butterfly, his signature event. Yet, that is the scenario which unfolded when Chad Le Clos chased down Phelps on the final lap and won the gold medal in the grueling event with a mark of 1:52.96.

Like van der Burgh, Le Clos was emotional after his triumph, tearing up on the podium during the medal ceremony. As a credit to Phelps, he took a guidance role with Le Clos in the parade around the deck after the playing of the South African National Anthem. A pro at handling the process, Phelps tutored Le Clos on what to do.

Biggest Surprise (Female): Out of nowhere, Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte captured the gold medal in the 100 breaststroke, holding off a hard-charging Rebecca Soni at the finish. The 15-year-old didn't even contest the event at last summer's World Championships in Shanghai, but broke onto the world scene with three straight performances in the 1:05 range.

Gutsiest Performance: Major credit goes to American Allison Schmitt for the way she contested the 200 freestyle, which yielded the North Baltimore Aquatic Club standout a gold medal. Schmitt bolted off the blocks, building a commanding lead by the 75-meter mark and daring her challengers to catch her. It didn't happen.

With a time of 1:53.61, Schmitt established a textile-suit best and reversed the finish of the 400 freestyle, where she narrowly took silver to the gold medal of France's Camille Muffat. It also punctuated a year in which Schmitt has risen from an elite member of Team USA to a global superstar.

Biggest Mistake: This award is shared by the coaching staffs of Brazil and Russia for fielding less-than-stacked squads for the 400 free relay and 800 free relay, respectively. By sitting some of their best swimmers, Brazil and Russia failed to advance to the championship final, which was inexcusable. There is no worse place to make that kind of tactical error.

Great Britain gets an honorable mention in this category for going with a 400 free relay which wasn't as loaded as it could have been. Great Britain, however, wasn't expected to finish as highly as Brazil or Russia, thus the honorable-mention status.

Best Comeback: The bronze medal won by Brendan Hansen in the 100 breaststroke was a tremendous accomplishment for the former world-record holder. Hansen only returned to the sport in January 2011, following two-plus years of retirement. While many comeback balloons deflated, Hansen flew high, coming out of Lane Eight to medal.

Finest Relay Leg (Tie): Lost in the triumph of the Australian women in the 400 free relay was the 51.93 split produced by the Netherlands' Ranomi Kromowidjojo on the anchor leg. That effort helped the Dutch to the silver medal and was the fastest split the sport has seen, bettering the 51.99 by Germany's Britta Steffen on the end of the 400 medley relay at the 2009 World Championships. Steffen's split, of course, was done in a high-tech suit.

Then there was the anchor leg of Frenchman Yannick Agnel in the men's 400 free relay. Giving France revenge over the United States for the outcome in the same event, Agnel powered his country to the wall 3:09.93, his split of 46.74 doing the trick.

Best Near-Miss: The distinction in this category goes to Jamaica's Alia Atkinson, who was fourth in the 100 breaststroke. Not only was Atkinson not expected to challenge for a medal, she had to win a swimoff with Canada's Tera Van Beilen just to advance to the championship final.

Biggest Disappointment: That's an easy one. The Australian men's 400 freestyle relay was expected to commandingly collect the gold medal, largely because it entered action with the fastest-two 100 freestylers in the world in James Magnussen and James Roberts. Those guys, however, faltered and not only did Australia fail to win, it didn't even get on the podium. It was a huge underperformance

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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