By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, July 1. FOR two rounds, Aaron Peirsol toyed with his competition. He did what was necessary to get through the prelims, then picked up the pace a bit in the semifinal round. In the final of the 100 backstroke, the world-record holder and defending Olympic champion took the hammer to his competition.
Touching in second place at the 50-meter mark, just behind Randall Bal, Peirsol turned to his trademark finish and overtook the field down the stretch to touch in 52.89, under his previous global standard of 52.98. Simply, it was Peirsol doing what he does best, answering the challenge in a pressure-packed moment. Only the best know how to do it.
Matt Grevers, who looked excellent in the opening two rounds, punched a ticket for Beijing by placing second in a personal-best time of 53.19. Grevers, who will be among the 100 free favorites beginning tomorrow, is now in the medal equation for China, having held off Ryan Lochte for the second spot. Lochte scratched the 200 free to focus on the 100 back and grabbed third place in 53.37, the same as his semifinal time.
"That was the best race I've ever been in," Peirsol said. "Better than the Olympics. This is what I prepared for. I saved some good stuff for tonight. I'm glad I got my head on straight."
The leader through the prelims and semifinals, Randall Bal couldn't duplicate his earlier performances, clocking 53.45 for fourth place. While Bal would be a medal contender in Beijing if he was there, the two-per-nation rule will prevent that scenario. Bal was followed in fifth place by Ben Hesen (53.68) and sixth went to Nick Thoman in 53.79. The seventh- and eighth-place finishers were David Plummer (54.27) and Patrick Schirk (54.96).
"I made it," Grevers said. "My parents are crying out there. I haven't touched backstroke all year, I guess (training) for freestyle helped my backstroke. Arizona paid off for me. I had bad vision. I looked at the board and said, `Is that real?'"
Video Footage Removed Due to NBC Restrictions
Go to Swimming World's 2008 Olympics Landing Page for the most comprehensive coverage of the meet on the Internet.