By John Lohn
OMAHA, Nebraska, June 30. WHAT a battle we have on tap in the final of the men's 100 backstroke. Seven guys in the championship final broke 54 seconds and whichever swimmer places third tomorrow will probably be capable of claiming a medal at the Olympics. It's just that loaded of a discipline.
Training in Italy is definitely paying off for Randall Bal, who set a meet record in qualifying first for the final. The Stanford product posted a time of 53.09, making him the third-fastest performer in history. If he can hold it together for another night, he'll secure his first trip to the Olympics. To do so, he'll have some hurdles to clear.
"After the first heat went through, I was pretty surprised how fast the depth was," Bal said. "I knew it would be pretty tough, but after looking up from the stairs there were already four guys under 54. The swim felt great. This is a great pool, and the crowd is just unbeatable."
World-record holder and reigning Olympic champion Aaron Peirsol grabbed the second seed for the championship heat behind a time of 53.26. Peirsol owns the world record in 52.98 and another venture into the world of 52 could be on the horizon. While Bal will be out fast, Peirsol can close on anyone in the world, a scenario that sets up a super showdown.
"I haven't shaved yet," Peirsol said. "I was just trying to build the whole thing and take it step-by-step. I want to do better than I did tonight, just kind of build the race and get that under my belt."
Advancing to the final in third and fourth were Matt Grevers and Ryan Lochte. Grevers, the former Northwestern star, popped a personal-best time of 53.32 to finish just ahead of Lochte, who went 53.37 not long after winning his semifinal of the 200 free. It will be interesting to see how Lochte handles his double tomorrow.
Rounding out the field for the title heat are Nick Thoman and David Plummer, who shared the fifth spot in 53.83. Ben Hesen grabbed seventh place in 53.87 and Patrick Schirk eased into the No. 8 slot after a lifetime best of 54.16.
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.