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BARCELONA, Spain, August 2. THIS is the dawning of the Age of Breaststroke.
So far at the world swimming championships, three world records have fallen. Two of them were in breaststroke events. Ruta Meilutyte smashed Jessica Hardy’s mark in the 100 breast with a 1:04.35 on Monday. Then last night, Rikke Moller Pedersen broke through the 2:20 barrier in the 200 breaststroke with a 2:19.11.
Tomorrow night, or Sunday evening, Ruta Meilutyte could make it an even sweep of the world records in the breaststroke events. She is likely to take down Hardy’s 29.80 world record, having split a 29.97 in her 100 breast world record swim.
Surely someone with a head fuller of swimming knowledge will know if the sport has ever seen the world records in all three distances for a non-freestyle stroke fall in one meet. It didn’t happen during the techsuit era, which says a lot about where the stroke is going in 2013. Perhaps it’s just good fortune that Meilutyte and Pedersen — and Efimova, in a way — hit their strides at the same meet. But that’s not necessarily the case when you analyze the performances on the men’s side.
Christian Sprenger, Cameron van der Burgh and Daniel Gyurta toyed with the world marks in all three breaststroke events here in London. The one furthest from breaking a record was Sprenger in the 100 breast, and he was .33 from van der Burgh’s world record of 58.46. Van der Burgh was .11 from his own record of 26.67 in the 50 breast, and Gyurta fell .22 short of Akihiro Yamaguchi’s record of 2:07.01 tonight in the 200 breast.
Something’s going on in breaststroke, and I’m not quite sure what it is. No other stroke is seeing this kind of resurgence in the post-techsuit era. Missy Franklin is trying to do that on her own in the backstroke events, and Katie Ledecky is certainly changing the landscape of distance freestyle races. Perhaps the loss of the techsuits prompted swimmers to revamp breaststroke in a major way, and the changes took shape in a faster fashion than the other strokes.
With the exception of the men’s 100 breast, the breaststroke events are faster this year than they were in London. That’s not happening in every stroke. As a breaststroker, it makes me happy to see it. I’ve even noticed myself getting faster in the stroke in the past two years, so it’s not just at the super-elite level that this change is happening. And witness what Breeja Larson and Kevin Cordes did to the short course yards record books this past college season for more proof.
Sometimes major change just happens with no fathomable reason. We just accept them, celebrate them and wait for the future.
Lochte’s lactate. Ryan Lochte was amazing tonight. It’s one thing to go faster in his 200 backstroke than he did in London, but it’s mind-boggling that he can post a lifetime best in the 100 fly an hour later, then split 1:44.98 in the 200 free on the relay about 30 minutes after that. Most people would be happy to just be two seconds off their best 200 free time after a 200 backstroke and 100 butterfly. Lochte doesn’t settle for that, and neither do his muscles. He didn’t back off in the 100 fly semifinal — and he couldn’t afford to do so — and he had to be aching after that. He’s got an amazing internal system that’s able to flush out the lactic acid and get ready to race again. He did lots of meets like that during the Grand Prix series, and the work paid off. Now if he can just handle that 200 back-200 IM double in the Olympics…
Hero of the day: Melanie Henique of France had to swim the 50 butterfly three times today. She swam a 26.54 in prelims to tie with Germany’s Alexandra Wenk, then broke the tie with a 25.94. In the evening session, form lane eight, she made it into the championship final with a 25.95, to place fourth. Is a medal in the offing? The top three qualifiers — Jeanette Ottesen Gray, Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Fran Halsall — are intimidating in name alone, but not unbeatable.