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By David Rieder
BARCELONA, Spain, August 1. FIVE days have come and gone at the World Championships, and only three more finals sessions remain, but 18 gold medals are still up for grabs at Palau San Jordi. Here’s some thoughts on today’s racing and its impact on those 18 remaining finals.
Chinese Women Favorites But Wildcards in the 200 Fly
Entering the women’s 200 fly final today, Mireia Belmonte Garcia had positioned herself to win the home country’s first gold medal of the meet, while Katinka Hosszu hoped to earn her second victory. In the end, though, those two played second fiddle on the podium to Liu Zige. Liu entered the event as the world record-holder and won the 2008 Olympic champion, but few expected her to return to the top of the podium here. In recent international finals, Liu had tended to start fast but fall off the pace towards the end. In comparison, more was expected from Liu’s Chinese countrywoman, Olympic gold medalist Jiao Liuyang.
In this final, however, Liu held on at the finish in a way the international stage hadn’t seen since she won the Olympic gold five years ago. On the flip side, Jiao ended up well out of contention and off the podium for the first time at a major meet since the 2009 Worlds. Interestingly, since Liu and Jiao finished 1-2 at the 2008 Olympics, one of the two has made the podium at every major meet but rarely have both made it. The two have both been had their moments on top but have been relatively inconsistent in the big races, especially Liu. Their status as potentially dominating or potentially afterthoughts has added considerable intrigue to the 200 fly.
Consistency Makes Daniel Gyurta in 200 Breast
Over the past year, three men have broken what was the world record; Gyurta and Michael Jamieson swam under the mark in finishing 1-2 in the Olympic final before Akihiro Yamaguchi established the mark at 2:07.01 several weeks after the Olympic race he did not participate in. After posting a series of the top times in history over a short span last year, Yamaguchi has not swum nearly that fast in 2013. He qualified seventh for the final in 2:10.00 – three seconds off his world record – and leaves him a big underdog for the final. Jamieson didn’t do much better, qualifying fifth in 2:09.62. Gyurta, meanwhile, has the top qualifying time of 2:08.50, so he should be favored to make it three World titles in a row.
Two Important Races for American Men on Friday
The American men, winners of just two gold medals so far in Barcelona, are favorites to double that total in Friday’s action. First, Ryan Lochte and Tyler Clary will swim the final of the men’s 200 back as the top two seeds and the only two men who have broken 1:56 in the event’s early rounds. While Olympic silver medalist Ryosuke Irie and his Japanese counterpart Kosuke Hagino could challenge the top two, the Americans have advantages here. Lochte may be on a roll after his 200 IM win today, and he has potential for a 1:54-low performance. Clary, meanwhile, enters with the confidence of being the reigning Olympic champion.
To end the session, Lochte and the Americans swim the 800 free relay in pursuit of a fifth-straight world title in the event. Lochte has swum on all four previous winning relays, and he will go tomorrow for the first time without Michael Phelps Peter Vanderkaay (at least on the prelim squad). France will present a tough test, however, with world champion Yannick Agnel and 400 free relay hero Jeremy Stravius, while the Russians have the likes of Danila Izotov and Nikita Lobintsev on their team. Lochte, meanwhile, has to swim three times in the session, with the aforementioned 200 back final and a semi-final of the 100 fly. Conor Dwyer, already the silver medalist in the 200 free, will be a big factor here, and Ricky Berens has the potential to put this team over the top with a big split.
Medley Relay Update
In today’s final of the men’s 100 free, Jimmy Feigen and Nathan Adrian finished just behind James Magnussen at the touch. In all likelihood, one of the two will come head-to-head with Magnussen once again on the anchor leg of the 400 medley relay on Sunday. So far, 100 back champion Matt Grevers has a half second edge on Ashley Delaney on the backstroke leg, while 100 breast winner beat Kevin Cordes by about one second. With the 100 fly beginning tomorrow, keep an eye on the Americans and Australians once again; Eugene Godsoe should have a good swim after his silver medal in the 50 fly, while Lochte, with his history of impressive relay swims, could throw down a good leg on that stroke as well.
Check out David Rieder’s Facebook page to see more of his thoughts on the FINA World Championships and his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.