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Commentary by Jeff Commings
BARCELONA, Spain, August 4. WHEN Ye Shiwen swam her incredible 4:28.43 in the 400 individual medley at the Olympics last year, I was surely not the only person to think that record was untouchable.
Katinka Hosszu was not one of those people. She was in the race in London when Ye took the gold medal, putting up an astounding 59-second freestyle leg that had conspiracy theorists sharpening their knives, ready to dig them into Ye’s performance. While people continued to talk about whether or not illegal supplements had something to do with Ye’s week in London, Hosszu was already planning to prove that it such a swim is possible.
She made a big statement this morning in the 400 IM prelims, under world record pace through the breaststroke leg. Hosszu did look like she backed off a bit on the freestyle, but I wondered if it was the right decision to push the morning 400 IM so hard. As we’ve seen in the past year at the World Cup and other meets, Hosszu has the ability to recover quickly and swim fast multiple times in a day with little to no difficulty. It’s made her a rich woman, and could give her double gold here in Barcelona.
I do not think Hosszu can break the 400 IM world record tonight, simply because that freestyle split is so difficult to overcome. But the crowd will still pull her through the agonizingly tough final 100, and hopefully she’ll be the second woman under 4:30 in a textile suit. When Hosszu won the world title in 2009, she swam a 4:30.31 in a full-body polyurethane suit. It’s a testament to the work she’s put in this past year that she can possibly surpass that in a “normal” suit.
The end is near. Most of the media members here at the meet are ecstatic that the meet is nearing its end. Half of the journalists look like zombies. I’m one of them. The emotion of an eight-day meet, coupled with the 14-hour days that are necessary to cover it, take their toll among the media members. Chase Kalisz has also been looking forward to this day. He is probably the only one of the 1,500 athletes who has not raced at all until today. Kalisz only qualified for the team in the 400 IM,and event that is held on the final day of the meet. While his competition has been racing for a few days, Kalisz has been laying low and getting his taper set for one day of racing. This morning it looked like he’s got things on target, having nearly beaten his lifetime best in the 400 IM with a 4:11.87 top seed. The three behind him — Daiya Seto, Tyler Clary and Kosuke Hagino — will be tough, but I think all three of them will feel a week of racing by the time they reach the breaststroke leg. That’s Kalisz’s strongest stroke, and he’ll use it to great advantage.
The closing ceremony for the world championships takes place almost immediately after the team and individual awards are given out tonight in the Palau Sant Jordi. I have seen some of the rehearsals, and they include a very loud percussion performance, a synchronized swimming routine and a transfer of responsibilities of the world championships from Barcelona to Kazan, the 2015 host. The sold-out crowd will not know how much the organizers have worked on this. Every night once the venue is cleared (except for the journalists burning the midnight oil), music is played, lighting is tested and routines are rehearsed. I am not sure if I’ll stick around for it, but I am glad the crowd will have a fitting end to a wonderful meet.