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By John Lohn
LONDON, August 2. THERE was a short time a few months before the Olympics when it was uncertain if Roland Schoeman, a three-time medalist at the Games, would actually get the opportunity to compete in a fourth Olympiad. Because South Africa had more stringent standards to qualify for London, Schoeman's presence was up in the air.
While he had achieved the Olympic-qualifying standard at the South African Trials, he was required to go under the qualifying time on a second occasion. It wasn't until late April in which Schoeman pulled that feat, thus officially punching a ticket across the pond. Truthfully, it would have been a crime if Schoeman had been denied another Olympic bid.
One of the finest sprinters in the sport, revealed through his Olympic medals and credentials from the World Championships, Schoeman looked sharp in the preliminaries of the 50 freestyle on Thursday morning. Few have mentioned his name as a medal contender, with the primary focus centering on Brazilian Cesar Cielo, American Anthony Ervin and Australian James Magnussen.
However, Schoeman knows how to get the job done in a pressurized situation. Along with Darian Townsend, Ryk Neethling and Lyndon Ferns, Schoeman carried South Africa to the gold medal in the 400 freestyle relay at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. There, he also won the silver medal in the 100 free and a bronze medal in the 50 free.
In the last few years, Schoeman hasn't enjoyed the same success at the international level. The 2005 world champion in the 50 free, Schoeman was unable to advance to the championship final of the 50 free at last summer's World Champs in Shanghai. Nonetheless, his training has been progressing nicely in Phoenix and Schoeman looked every bit a factor in his London prelim.
“I've been feeling good ever since the relay,” Schoeman said of the 400 free relay on Day Two, in which South Africa finished fifth. “It was good to come out and get that one under my belt.”
**The Aquatic Centre will not rock any louder than it will tomorrow night when Rebecca Adlington steps to the blocks for defense of her gold medal in the 800 freestyle. Adlington is the overwhelming favorite for victory and earned the top seed for the final in the preliminaries with a time of 8:21.78. That was just ahead of the 8:21.89 by Lotte Friis, her longtime rival.
Adlington has already been under 8:20 on three occasions this year, a testament to her consistency and ability to race at a fast pace while in the middle of training. Breaking her world record of 8:14.10 will be highly difficult, but she could make a push at the textile record, the 8:16.22 by distance legend Janet Evans in 1989.
**American Kate Ziegler can't catch a break at the Olympics. Four years after failing to advance to the final of the 400 free and 800 free in Beijing, Ziegler finished 21st in the preliminaries of the 800 free in London. The fourth seed in the event, Ziegler has been battling the flu and lacked the energy or strength to push for a bid to the championship final.
**With the comeback of Brendan Hansen already a success, thanks to his bronze medal in the 100 breaststroke, it's Anthony Ervin's turn to see if he can continue the feel-good nature of his comeback story. The 2000 Olympic champ in the 50 free, along with Gary Hall Jr., Ervin qualified fourth for the semifinals of the sprint with a time of 21.83.
Ervin was rushed taking off his warmup and getting to the starting block, but he wasn't flustered in the water. Considering Ervin improved in each round of the Olympic Trials, this was a good start to his second Olympics. Ervin is trying to establish a record for the longest stretch between individual gold medals.
**The world record of Kirsty Coventry in the 200 backstroke is on life support, with Missy Franklin ready to pull the plug. The reigning world champion in the event and the gold medalist in the 100 back earlier in the Games, Franklin qualified first for the semifinals with a time of 2:07.54.
The world record currently sits at 2:04.81, which Coventry produced at the 2009 World Championships in Rome. When the final of the 200 back is held tomorrow night, look for Franklin to shatter the standard in what is her signature event.
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