By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 25. THE second day of the FINA World Championships wrapped up not long ago and the spectators at Rod Laver Arena were once again treated to quality action. Here's the second installment of the World Champs Notebook, which will run throughout the week and provide quick-hitter analysis and news from Melbourne.
**After missing out on the championship final of the 400 freestyle on the first night of competition, there was some thought that Klete Keller simply misjudged his prelim race en route to a 10th-place finish. But, after Keller's problems continued in the preliminaries of the 200 free, it's obvious the two-time Olympian is off the mark.
Swimming in the 13th of 15 heats, Keller turned in a time of 1:49.58, which placed him in 18th place and shy of advancing to the semifinals. It was another blow for the Club Wolverine athlete, who came to these World Champs in contention for a pair of individual medals. Analyzing his efforts, Keller was blunt and unforgiving.
"I have no idea, it is just bad swimming, plain and simple," he said. "I don't think anything can be done in the short term. All I can do is put this meet behind me and hope to be ready for the Olympic Trials. It felt like I was going downhill slowly and then it kind of snowballed and got progressively worse as the season went on."
Keller has been a longtime staple on the United States' 800 free relay, anchoring the American squad to gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But, he was more than three seconds off his personal best in the 200 freestyle and questioned whether he deserved to remain on the relay when it is contested later this week.
"I think someone else should be on the team to tell you the truth," he said.
When the 800 free relay rolls around, it's almost a lock that three of the positions will be handled by Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay. That trio joined Keller in Athens, at the 2005 World Champs and at the Pan Pacific Championships. If Keller indeed is pulled from the team that races in the final, options include Jayme Cramer and David Walters, who qualified for Team USA in relay duty. Another possibility is Aaron Peirsol, although he'll have raced the 200 backstroke earlier in the night.
**On Day One, it was Katie Hoff who had the most difficult schedule. On the second day of the meet, the honor went to Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry. After racing in the first semifinal of the 100 backstroke, Coventry only had 28 minutes to recover for the championship heat of the 200 individual medley. But, Coventry appeared to considerably back off in the back, as she was only eighth in her heat, and focused her attention on the I.M., where she was second to Hoff.
**With their medal finishes from the first night, Grant Hackett and Michael Phelps added to their hardware stash. Phelps' 11th gold medal tied him with Ian Thorpe for the most in history and his 14 overall medals rank third, behind Hackett's 18 and Jenny Thompson's 15. Hackett's breakdown includes 10 gold, five silver and three bronze.
Phelps could overtake Hackett for No. 1 in the medal count by the end of the week, as he could grab seven more podium finishes for a total of 21 during his career. Hackett, meanwhile, can max out at 21 if he medals in the 800 and 1,500 freestyles and in the 800 free relay.
**While Klete Keller is struggling in the middle-distance freestyle events, Tae Hwan Park continues to surge. The Korean teenager was highly touted heading into this week, largely due to his performances at last year's Asian Games and Pan Pacific Championships. Without question, Park is living up to the lofty billing.
Blasting by the competition on the last lap of the 400 free, on his way to the gold medal, Park opened the 200 freestyle in equally impressive fashion. He was third in the prelims and came back at night with a time of 1:47.83. That effort made Park the fifth seed for the championship final, where he'll tangle with Michael Phelps and Pieter van den Hoogenband.
In the past few months, Park has talked openly about his goal of winning a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. And, though his talent was obvious, it wasn't clear that he would rocket to this level with such speed. Like Grant Hackett, Park has superb range, plenty of speed for the 200 free and the proper endurance for the 1,500 free.
**Several schools from the Melbourne area sent groups of students to the morning preliminaries, a class trip of sorts for those privileged enough to be in attendance. That fact illustrated how valued this sport is in Australia. One can only hope that the United States, as a way of bolstering interest among its youth contingent, will take similar steps one day by filing youngsters into American-based competitions.
**By handling the third leg on the United States' triumphant 400 free relay, Cullen Jones continued to be a pioneer for the African-American community. A leading contender for the title in the 50 free, Jones has embraced the fact that he's breaking barriers in the sport. Routinely, the North Carolina State product talks about inspiring young African-American athletes to get involved with swimming.