By Phillip Whitten
FUKUOKA, Japan, July 21. THIS is the first of the previews we will provide each day for the next day’s events.
There are only three finals on Day One of the pool competition, but each of those three events will feature the Olympic champion/world record-holder out to defend her/his/their title.
Women’s 400m Individual Medley
Can you say "Yana"? That’s all you need to know to predict the winner of the first event at the 9th FINA World Swimming Championships. It would take an 8.0-magnitude earthquake for someone to defeat the 2000 Olympic champion and world record-holder whose 4:33.59 from Sydney is almost four seconds faster than her nearest challenger.
Klochkova has been swimming consistent 4:41s – 4:42s all year long, unrested, unshaved and unchallenged. In the absence of now-retired Yasuko Tajima of Japan, the Ukrainian wonder may not challenge her world record, but she should be unstoppable.
On the other hand, the battle for silver and bronze is wide open. Romania’s Beatrice Coada-Caslaru won bronze in Sydney and should be favored for silver off her 4:37.18 swim there. However, the 26 year-old has a best this year of only 4:49.76, 24th fastest in the world. But the Romanians have not entered any big meets outside their own country, and Caslaru was not pushed at all in Romania, so she may be ready for a big drop. Caslaru’s performance may also be a preview of what Diana Mocanu will do—the double Olympic champ has not been pressed all year.
Germany’s pair of Annika Melhorn, a fast-rising 18 year-old, and veteran Nicole Hetzer, are ranked second and third this year, respectively, at 4:41.11 and 4:41.55. Melhorn, who didn’t break 4:48 last year, would be a favorite for the silver but, according to German sources, she hasn’t entered the event. If she does, we pick her for silver.
Australia’s Jennifer Reilly was fifth in Sydney last year at a NR 4:41.51, but only managed a 4:46.33 this year at the Aussie Trials.
The USA has two strong contenders in Kaitlin Sandeno – aka "The Energizer Bunny" – and Maggie Bowen. Sandeno, who finished fourth in Sydney in 4:40.89, is ranked fourth this year at 4:42.98. She’s been hovering around the 4:41-4:43 area for three years and needs a break-through; we think it may come in Japan. Bowen is a late bloomer whose best last year was 4:47.91; this year her 4:43.15 ranks her fifth. She’s probably stronger in the 200 IM, but she's been coming on so strongly this year she may surprise and sneak in for a medal.
Our picks (in the absence of Melhorn):
1. Yana Klochkova (UKR)
2. Kaitlin Sandeno (USA)
3. Beatrice Coada-Caslaru (ROM)
Could upset: Hetzer (GER), Bowen (USA), Reilly (AUS)
Men’s 400 meter Freestyle
Australia’s Wonder Boy Ian Thorpe is shooting for seven gold medals in Fukuoka, and this event – his favorite – is the first step on the record-setting journey he has mapped for himself. In 1998, he won this event in Perth, becoming the youngest men's individual world champion in history. Since then he’s gotten better – much better!
His WR of 3:40.59 set at Sydney last year is almost three seconds faster than anyone else has ever swum. The only person to come close is Thorpe, himself, who swam a 3:40.76 this year. Thorpe hasn’t said anything publicly, but rumor is that he has set his sights at breaking 3:40.
As in the women’s 400 IM, there should be a spirited battle for silver in this event, this time featuring Italy’s Massi Rosolino and Australia’s Grant Hackett. "Massi" is renowned for his silver medal in the event in Sydney in 3:43.40 (making him the second fastest man in history) and his astronomical hGH levels. Hackett, the WR-holder in the short course version of this event and 2000 Olympic champion in the 1500 meters, faltered badly in this event in Sydney, managing only a 3:48+. But he turned in a sparkling 3:45.46 this year in Tasmania at the Aussie Trials.
Just to make it interesting, Holland’s Pieter van den Hoogenband has indicated he may enter the event as well, along with the 50, 100 and 200 free. Hoogie’s best is 3:48.37, which ranked him ninth this year, and he has turned in a 3:49.04 (5th in the world) this year, but he’s never swum the event rested. Our guess is he won't swim the 400, preferring to save himself for the 4 x 100 free relay.
Italy’s second man is Emiliano Brembilla, who finished fourth in Sydney last September in 3:47.01, just one-hundredth of a second out of the medals. Reportedly he is motivated to make up for that lapse and win a medal this time around. Brembilla has swum 3:49.76 (7th) this year.
Klete Keller, the US record-holder and Sydney bronze medalist (3:47.00) did not make the US team in this event, but the Americans have two strong entrants: up-and-comer Robert Margalis and veteran Chad Carvin. Margalis improved from 3:50.68 (13th) last year to 3:48.72 (4th) this year. Carvin swam 3:48.08 (6th) last year and has gone 3:49.07 (6th) this year.
1. Ian Thorpe (AUS)
2. Grant Hackett (AUS)
3. Massi Rosolino (ITA)
But look out for…: Emiliano Brembilla (ITA), Chad
Carvin (USA), Robert Margalis (USA)
Men’s 4 x 100 meter Freestyle Relay Last year Australia, anchored by the mighty Thorpe, ended the USA’s Olympic unbeaten streak in this event, smashing the WR by almost two seconds, as the Thorpedo just out-touched the USA’s Gary Hall, Jr. This is The Rematch: Swimming’s version of "The Thrilla in Manila" and "The Rumble in the Jungle," all rolled into one.
Both teams are at less than full strength, but ready to rumble. The Aussies have lost two of the four men on the WR-setting (3:13.69) squad but, then again, Thorpie is already faster this year in the 100 than he was last year. (On the other hand, he may be a bit tired from his 400 free.)
The USA is minus anchor Gary Hall, who gave the World Champs a bye, but Anthony Ervin and Jason Lezak have matured in the last 10 months, Both are ready to swim faster. Nate Dusing won a spot on the relay today in a swim-off. Dusing's 49.31 swim puts him on the relay, replacing Greg Busse. Scott Tucker rounds out the US relay squad.
This should be a titanic battle worthy of the land of Godzilla. Call me an optimist, but I’m picking the USA to take this one, shatter the Thorpedo’s 7-gold dream. I'm looking for a winning time of 3:14, though a WR is not out of the question.
As in Sydney, the battle will be for third. Brazil, which won bronze last year when the Dutch were deked, may have an edge, but the Dutch are hankering for revenge. Anchored by Hoogie, they may get it. Germany and Italy, will also be in the hunt, though Italy probably doesn't have enough depth. The same is true of Sweden and France, while Russia founders without the Czar.
3. The Netherlands
Upset-minded: Germany, Brazil, Italy