By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 27. THE 12th edition of the FINA World Championships at Rod Laver Arena entered its third day of pool competition, and the performances continued to be superb as four world records were set. Be sure to check the event-by-event recaps from Melbourne. Here's the latest installment of the World Champs Notebook, which will run nightly through the rest of the competition.
**Amid the hype surrounding the firm of Phelps, Manaudou & Lenton, athletes deserving of equal focus tend to get overlooked. So, this seemed to be an appropriate spot to highlight the efforts of Tunisia's Ous Mellouli, the former University of Southern California standout who has been red hot during the early stages of the World Champs.
Heading into the meet, there was no reason for Mellouli to not be brimming with confidence. As part of his preparation for Melbourne, he turned in a strong showing at the Missouri Grand Prix in February, winning the 800 freestyle, and grabbing second-place finishes in the 200 and 400 individual medley events, along with the 400 freestyle. That momentum has obviously carried forward.
On the first night of action, Mellouli picked up the silver medal in the 400 freestyle, and only a late charge by Korean teenage sensation Tae Hwan Park prevented Mellouli from grabbing gold. This morning, Mellouli picked right back up, claiming the third qualifying spot for tomorrow's 800 freestyle. And, later in the week, look for him to challenge for a medal in the 400 I.M.
Initially coached by Mark Schubert and now guided by Dave Salo at the Trojan Swim Club, Mellouli has quietly turned himself into an international force over the middle-distance freestyles and medley events. Sixteen months out from Beijing, there's no reason to believe he won't be in the mix for gold in some discipline.
**Of the 43 members of Team USA, only a few have not yet hit the water for competitive action. Two of the idle athletes will get to action tomorrow for the women's 200 butterfly. Mary DeScenza and Kim Vandenberg will be the American representatives in a race that should feature a battle for gold between Aussie Jessicah Schipper and Poland's Otylia Jedrzejczak.
The other American swimmers who are waiting for their chance to race are Jayme Cramer (800 free relay), Larsen Jensen (1,500 free), Eric Shanteau (200 breaststroke), David Walters (800 free relay), Megan Jendrick (200 breaststroke), Ariana Kukors (400 I.M.), Elizabeth Beisel (200 backstroke) and Margaret Hoelzer (200 backstroke).
**Look, the guy is never going to win a medal at the international level, but we're going to give him a nod for persistence. Although he finishes last, 43rd to be exact, in the 800 freestyle, Theodore Graf hacked nearly a minute off his personal-best time. Seeded at 11:05.32, Graf managed a time of 10:14.68 while representing the Northern Mariana Islands.
Located between Hawaii and the Phillipines, Graf's homeland consists of 15 islands with a population of just over 80,000. Graf is a feel-good story. Yes, the competition drags on longer than what is necessary because of these slow performances, but the fact that he's pushed forth with the sport and has searched for improvement is worthy of a mention.
**By defending his championship in the 100 breaststroke, the United States' Brendan Hansen kept alive his chase for a Triple Crown. No athlete has ever won the 50 through 200 distances in a stroke, but Hansen has a solid chance in the breaststroke. The biggest challenge will be in the 50 distance, largely due to the specialist factor.
Yet, if Hansen can find a way to prevail in the one-lap sprint, that would enhance to drama surrounding the 200 breast. Not only could Hansen complete the trifecta with a gold in that event, he figures to have another showdown with Japan's Kosuke Kitajima. Over the years, the men have regularly delivered highlight-reel races. Hansen is the top qualifier for the final of the 50.
**The men's 100 freestyle is scheduled to begin tomorrow with preliminaries and semifinals and the possibility of seeing a second man break the 48-second barrier is strong. Italy's Filippo Magnini, the defending champion, was splendid in anchor duty earlier in the week. During the final, in which the Italians picked up a silver medal, Magnini brought his team home in 47.18.
Only Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband has broken into the 47-second range, with his world record sitting at 47.84. The Italians are also looking strong for the 800 free relay, as two countryman qualified for the final of the 200 free – Massi Rosolino and Nicola Cassio. In that final, Rosolino placed fifth while Cassio was eighth.