World Championships: The Rule of Three

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By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)

BARCELONA, Spain, August 3. CULTURES often have superstitions surrounding numbers: for North Americans, it is the number three. You’ve heard the adage: good and bad things always seem to come in threes. So, was Ryan Lochte’s historical triple last night a precursor to this morning’s theme of threes?

Breaststroke Rule of Three

After the world record fell in both the 100 and 200 breaststroke this week, Yuliya Efimova finally earned her own record by slicing two hundredths off of Jessica Hardy’s 50 breaststroke world record. That makes three-for-three in women’s breaststroke world records. The question that remains is: will Efimova’s record stand? And if it falls, will it be at her hands, or the hands of one of her competitors?

Cameron van der Burgh narrowly missed his world record in the preliminary round of the men’s 50 breaststroke. Although he walked away from the final with the gold medal, his finals time was only a hundredth faster than his prelims swim and he was unable to set a new world mark. Moving up through semi-finals and then to the final in the 50 breaststroke does not present the same increase in waves in the pool as butterfly or freestyle, but it does bring about a different issue.

The fastest breaststroke exists at the intersection of speed and relaxation: this is hardest to accomplish in the 50, where there is a very real risk of the swimmer trying too hard. Perhaps the fact that Efimova was very relaxed this morning , thanks to already earning a gold medal last night, helped her swim to this world record this morning. Can she repeat this performance as the pressure picks up heading into the semi-finals, and the final?

Efimova will not be the only swimmer looking to lower that world mark. Jessica Hardy has now had both of her world records snatched away from her this week, and although all swimmers smile and say “records were made to be broken” when they see their own record fall, no one likes losing their world record. Especially when they are in the race.

Ruta Meilutyte earned the championship record in this event en route to her world record swim in the 100 breaststroke, and so she too saw her own record broken this morning. Meilutyte will also be in the hunt for this world record: she is not strictly a 100-meter swimmer, as she also swam the 50 freestyle last summer at the Olympics. Granted, she didn’t earn a second swim, but it was still in a new national record time.

This morning, Efimova, Hardy and Meilutyte were separated by about three tenths of a second. Tomorrow night, the medals will likely be dispersed among these three; the question that remains to be answered is who will hear their national anthem, and will they also walk away with the world record?

Sun Yang’s Rule of Three

This morning, Sun Yang earned the top seed in the men’s 1500 freestyle, looking to sweep the 400-800-1500 freestyle events here in Barcelona. As the world record holder in this event, this sweep looks fairly promising for this Chinese superstar. As the distance increases, so does the likelihood of him winning three gold medals.

Winning the 1500 freestyle tomorrow night will also make him the top miler three years in a row: 2011 World Championships, 2012 Olympic Games, and 2013 World Championships. To add more superstition to the pool, if Ryan Cochrane were to earn silver behind Sun Yang, that would be the third time in a row he has come second to Sun, and the third World Championships that he has taken home silver (2009, 2011 and 2013).

Only time will tell if the Rule of Three will stand through the rest of the meet. When it comes down to it, however, you can find a pattern anywhere. You just have to look for it, and when that is the case, it is just superstition.

Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.

Follow her on twitter @juliah2o

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