World Championships Day Four Prelims Notebook: The Games Sprinters Play

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Commentary by Jeff Commings

BARCELONA, Spain, July 31. MALE freestyle sprinters are such interesting creatures. To quote the immortal C3PO: “Sometimes even I don’t understand their logic.”

Witness today’s preliminaries in the 100 freestyle at the world championships. James Magnussen uncorked a 47.71 to lead all qualifiers. It was the only swim under 48 seconds this morning. Correct me if I’m wrong, but no one has gone under 48 seconds in a prelim swim at a major international competition in a textile suit. It certainly didn’t happen last year at the Olympics, and Magnussen didn’t break 48 seconds in the prelims at the 2011 world championships on his way to the world title.

“I felt really relaxed, my stroke felt good specifically, more comfortable,” he said. “It was just the heat.”

Yeah, that’s the game sprinters play, to be nonchalant about a noticeably fast swim. What also struck me as interesting was Magnussen’s appearance. Taking a page from Aaron Peirsol’s playbook, Magnussen’s chest hair was not fully shaved, and he had maybe a day’s growth on his beard. Peirsol was gradually remove more hair from his face through the rounds, becoming fully shaved for finals.

(Side note: I noticed that in London, Magnussen’s face was never fully shaved for any of his races. I hope someone got in his ear about that, because that stubble was probably the difference between gold and silver in the 100 free in London.)

I think he was also trying to send a statement to his competitors that his 48.00 as a relay leadoff on Sunday was not indicative of what’s to come in the 100 free finals, where he’ll be looking to defend his title. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the two swimmers who are likely to be his biggest rivals in tomorrow’s final, Vlad Morozov and Nathan Adrian, coasted through prelims. Morozov qualified seventh with a 48.67, while Adrian was all the way down in 12th with a 48.93.

Morozov and Adrian were likely sending a statement as well. They were going to wait until tonight’s semifinals to uncork a fast swim. Playing such a game would be a wise ploy, if they hadn’t already swum in the 400 free relay three days ago. Will Morozov and Adrian go under 48 tonight? They should probably put up something in the 47-mid range, because the placings for the top eight will be separated by mere hundredths. If you’re fourth in one of the semifinals, you might find yourself out of the top eight.

And by the way, Adrian’s fine.

“Everybody has thrown up before and people are making a bigger deal out of it than it actually is,” he said. “I just threw up, but I feel fine now.”

Break a barrier, get a second swim. If you went under two minutes in the men’s 200 IM this morning, you were rewarded with a second swim in tonight’s semifinals. Joseph Schooling, notable for his accomplishments at the Bolles School, qualified 16th with a 1:59.99. Jeremy Stravius, the bronze medalist from last night’s 200 IM, was 17th with a 2:00.00. Not sure how he’ll feel about that. Stravius will likely be a part of the French 800 freestyle relay tomorrow night, so he might be happy to have a night free of racing.

Speaking of that 200 IM, I’m still expecting it to be a battle for bronze. Ryan Lochte’s 1:58.46 for fifth place looked comfortable and likely felt easy for Lochte. I’m still predicting Kosuke Hagino to give Lochte a good battle for most of the race, but won’t have enough to win. The two longtime rivals, Laszlo Cseh and Thiago Pereira, will once again be in a fight for third.

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