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By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 28. IS it time to be concerned about the United States' men's 400 freestyle relay? Absolutely. It was one thing to see a sluggish preliminary session at the Olympic Trials, but when the semifinals didn't produce anything noteworthy, or much depth, the red flag shot into the air at the CenturyLink Center.
At a time when a contending country for the gold medal needs to have at least one 47-point performer, the United States failed to inspire. Only Nathan Adrian and Jimmy Feigen managed to race below 48.50, and barely achieved that feat. Adrian led the way into the championship final with a clocking of 48.33 while Feigen checked in at 48.48.
Perhaps we'll see some faster results when Olympic bids are on the line in the final, but optimism isn't exactly in the air. The next-best times behind Adrian and Feigen came from Matt Grevers (48.71) and Ricky Berens (48.85). Really, the rest of the world must be feeling pretty good about toppling the United States, especially Australia.
At the Aussie Trials in March, James Magnussen and James Roberts threw down the gauntlet with respective times of 47.10 and 47.63. More important, they were backed up by strong showings from Matt Targett (48.32) and Eamon Sullivan (48.53). Remember, the times of Targett and Sullivan are for the third- and fourth-place finishers.
With France and Russia boasting solid lineups, a failure by the United States to find some magic could actually lead to a missed podium. Never in Olympic history, barring the 1980 Games, has the United States failed to medal in the 400 free relay. Of course, 1980 was the year the USA boycotted the Olympics.
The good news for the United States is the fact that Michael Phelps, who is not contesting the 100 free at Trials, will be on the 400 free relay in London. Therefore, the Americans need to find only three reliable legs in the next four weeks. Whether that can happen remains to be seen.
**The star of Allison Schmitt is at its highest point ever. Backing up her earlier triumph in the 400 freestyle, Schmitt added the 200 free championship to her collection by setting an American record of 1:54.40. More important, as far as Olympic aspirations are concerned, Schmitt's time is the fastest in the world this year and the swiftest ever in a textile suit.
The show Frenchwoman Camille Muffat put on in Europe earlier this year was splendid, complete with a 1:54.66 effort in the 200 free and a 4:01.13 outing in the 400 free. But she'll have plenty of company in London in Schmitt, who has attacked her races with ferocity and basically has been telling the competition good luck in keeping up.
**Question of the Night: Based on the results of the semifinals of the men's 100 freestyle, what kind of chance does the United States have of capturing the gold medal in London in the 400 freestyle relay?
**Dara Torres made her first appearance at the Olympic Trials, greeting several coaches and athletes during the warmup for the evening session. Torres will start her pursuit of a sixth Olympic invitation on Sunday morning, when she climbs the block for the 50 freestyle. The 45-year-old is the reigning silver medalist in the event.
**There's no doubt who the premier female medley performer is, as Caitlin Leverenz followed up a second-place finish in the 400 IM with a victory in the 200 IM, her 2:10.22 showing easily ahead of the 2:11.30 of Ariana Kukors. For Kukors, it was redemption for a third-place finish in the 200 IM at the 2008 Trials.
With four women already under 2:10 this year, Leverenz and Kukors have a month to tweak their races to get into the medal picture.
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