By Phillip Whitten
FUKUOKA, Japan, July 23. THIS is our preview of the events to be contested tomorrow, Tuesday, July 24, at the World Championships in Fukuoka. For more information on the meet, take advantage of Swimming World and Jr. Swimmer Magazine's Special Subscription Offer
Only four finals will be swum on Tuesday, but they include some of the most eagerly anticipated match-ups of the Championships, and they are enhanced by the fact that every single race offers the strong possibility of a world record being set.
Men’s 100 meter Breaststroke
Many observers see the duel between Russia’s Roman Sloudnov – the only man ever to crack the one minute barrier – and the USA’s Ed Moses, as the premier event of the Championships. And it’s hard to disagree.
Last month Sloudnov twice broke Moses’ WR of 1:00.29 at the Russian Trials, first going 1:00.26 in the semis, then bursting through the one minute mark in the finals with a 59.97. That record lasted only until today’s semifinals in Fukuoka, where the Siberian sprinter lowered that time to 59.94.
But Sloudnov was also favored last year to win in Sydney, and Moses beat him. Overlooked in all the Sloudnov vs. Moses hype last year was Italy’s Domenico Fioravanti, who beat both of them to take Olympic gold.
Fukuoka is Round Two. This time, the Italian is no secret. The two favorites are painfully aware of his presence. But the guy they may be overlooking is Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, who swam a NR 1:00.61 in the semis, just behind Moses’ 1:00.50. This 18 year-old high school senior is a Big Meet swimmer, a young man who has risen to the occasion every time he’s been called upon in his brief career. With the backing of the home crowd, he’s looking to upset.
The rest of the field is very fast, with a 1:01.98 needed just to make the finals. It may take a world record to win here.
1. Roman Sloudnov (RUS)
2. Ed Moses (USA)
3. Kosuke Kitajima (JPN)
Definitely capable of medaling: Domenico Fioravanti (ITA)
Outside shots: Oleg Lisagor (UKR), Morgan Knabe (CAN), Darren Mew (GBR)
Women’s 50 meter Backstroke
The world record-holder, Germany’s Sandra Volker (28.25) is here and in the best shape of her life, eager to take the crown in the 50 meter backstroke in this, the first time it’s been contested in the World Championships. And she’s certainly the favorite. But her competition is very strong, with any one of the eight finalists capable of winning.
We’re picking the USA’s Natalie Coughlin, who was simply awesome at the NCAA Championships, to upset the German record-holder. She swam the fastest semifinal time, 28.49 (AR) to Volker’s 28.51.
With a good start, Coughlin’s Cal teammate, Haley Cope, could also medal, but she’ll have to beat Olympic 100m back champ, Diana Mocanu of Romania, Spain’s Nina Zhivanevskaya, Germany’s Antje Buschschulte and Australia’s Dyana Calub.
1. Natalie Coughlin (USA)
2. Sandra Volker (GER)
3. Antje Buschschulte (GER)
Don’t count out: Haley Cope (USA), Nina Zhivanevskaya (ESP), Diana Mocanu (ROM), Dyana Calub (AUS)
Men’s 200 meter Butterfly
Oh, Lordy, is this going to be a race! It took a sub-1:58 just to make the final field of eight, but this is likely to shape up as a four-man battle, including the youngest finalist at the Championships and one of the oldest.
Qualifying in a tie for first were the USA’s Tom Malchow, the Olympic champion and former WR-holder, and France’s Franck Esposito, the old man in the field at 30. Their time of 1:55.03 is the second fastest in history, bettered only by Michael Phelps’ WR of 1:54.92 set in March.
Phelps, who just turned 16 last month, is the third qualifier (1:56.41sf, 1:56.11p), just a tenth of a second ahead of Ukraine’s Denis Silantiev.
It will almost certainly take a WR to win this one.
We’re looking for a one-two US sweep, with Malchow regaining his global standard from the teen sensation, Phelps. Esposito, the 1998 world silver medalist who has a history of not quite performing up to his capabilities when the chips are down, should just edge Sydney Olympic silver medalist Silantiev for the bronze.
1. Tom Malchow (USA)
2. Michael Phelps (USA)
3. Franck Esposito (FRA)
Could upset: Denis Silantiev (UKR)
Long shots: Takashi Yamamoto (JPN), Justin Norris (AUS)
Men’s 800 meter Freestyle
The men’s 800 free is the day’s third event that could qualify for the title of "greatest event of the World Championships." As in the 400 free, the main protagonists are Boy Wonder Ian Thorpe, who won the 400 in WR time, and teammate Grant Hackett, the Olympic champ at 1500 meters whose 3:42 two days ago in the 400 made him the second fastest man in history.
When these two met in Hobart in March, they swam side-by-side for 700 meters before Thorpe unleashed a devastating kick over the final 100 meters to obliterate Kieren Perkins’ seven year-old WR of 7:46.00. Thorpe’s 7:41.59 and Hackett’s 7:44.57 make the two Aussies easily the two fastest men in history.
Buoyed by his great 400 swim, Hackett has predicted he will take down his younger rival in the 800. But to do so, he’ll have to build a two- to three-second lead through 700 meters. We don’t think Thorpe will let him do it.
Thorpe should get his third gold medal of the Championships in his quest for seven, with both men under Thorpe's barely-dry WR and a sub-7:40 a distinct possibility.
Ten or more seconds back, there will be a spirited battle for the bronze featuring the USA’s Chris Thompson (7:57.11), bronze medalist in Sydney in the 1500; Russia’s Alexei Filipets (7:56.89), fourth in that race; Britain’s reborn Graeme Smith (NR 7:56.73) and possibly Japan’s Shunichi Fujita and Italy’s Andrea Righi.
1. Ian Thorpe (AUS)
2. Grant Hackett (AUS)
3. Graeme Smith (GBR)
Fighting for the bronze: Chris Thompson (USA), Alexei Filipets (RUS), Andrea Righi (ITA), Shunichi Fujita (JPN)