World Champs, Day 4 Evening Session: Intrigue Surrounds Four Championship Finals

By John Lohn and Phil Whitten

MONTREAL, Canada, July 26. THE fourth day of finals at the World Championships is male-dominated, as three of the four championship races are among the men. Titles will be determined in the 50-meter breaststroke, 200-meter butterfly and the 800 freestyle. For the women, the 200 freestyle crown will be decided. Here’s a look at the championship events.

Men’s 50 Breaststroke (JL)

With two of the primary contenders eliminated in early-round action – world-record holder Oleg Lisogor (Ukraine) and defending champ James Gibson (Great Britain) – this event has taken on a new look. Aside from the absence of Lisogor and Gibson, American Brendan Hansen, the champion in the 100 breast, decided to skip the event and concentrate on the 200. Hansen would have been the favorite.

The bronze medalist in the 100 breast, France’s Hugues Duboscq has looked strong throughout the week and possesses the necessary speed to win the one-lap event. Duboscq earned the top seed for the final when he won his semifinal heat in 27.73. He’ll be challenged by American Mark Gangloff, who qualified fourth in 27.90, but had Tuesday’s fastest time overall, a 27.49 from the preliminaries.

Slovenia’s Emil Tahirovic qualified second in 27.81, just ahead of the 27.89 of Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, the silver medalist in the 100. Kitajima may not be a pure sprinter, but certainly has the ability to drop more time and contend for gold. The fifth and sixth spots are occupied by Great Britain’s Chris Cook (27.91) and Germany’s Mark Warnecke, the 35-year-old veteran who went 27.96 in the semifinals.

The 50 strokes being highly unpredictable at times, the aforementioned six men are all capable of ascending to the top step on the medal podium. Look for Duboscq to get slightly quicker, but if Gangloff can regain his Tuesday morning form, the Auburn product could capture his first world championship.

Women’s 200 Freestyle (PW)

Like many of the events in Montreal, the women's 200 free has no clear favorite. After the semifinals, a scant six-tenths of a second is all that separates the field, from top to bottom. In fact, you could almost make a case that the semifinalists who did not make it into the final constitute a stronger field than the eight who did.

Consider the four women who finished ninth through 12th: In ninth, U.S. Wunderkid Katie Hoff, who missed making the final by .01 seconds. In 10th, her U.S. teammate — yes, no American made the final — Whitney Myers, just .03 out of making the final. In 11th, .06 out of the final, Romania's Camelia Potec, the 2004 Olympic champion. In 12th, Costa Rica's Claudia Poll, the 1996 Olympic champion.

However, the race tonight will be among the eight young women who did make it into the final, and the event qualifies as a genuine toss-up. Nonetheless, it seems to us that five swimmers have a slight edge on the other three.

We picked Federica Pellegrini (Italy) to win this event in our pre-Championships forecast, and we're sticking with that. Britain's Melanie Marshall, the world's fastest 200 freestyler last year, wants to make up for her dismal showing in Athens, and she's got the speed to do it. Sweden's Josefin Lillhage, the eighth qualifier, dominated this event during the World Cup and she's got 54-second speed over 100 meters, making her a major threat.

Top qualifier was France's Solenne Figues, at 26 the oldest swimmer in the field. She'll be in it all the way. We've watched 16 year-old Sara Isakovic of Slovenia for two years and, though she doesn't make spectacular drops, she is very consistent and should be in the medal hunt.

The remaining three are Aussie Linda Mackenzie, who is probably better at 800 meters, Poland's Paulina Barzycka, a newcomer at the international level and China's Yang Yu, who probably doesn't have quite enough speed to make it onto the podium.

Men’s 200 Butterfly (JL)

Throw a blanket over this crew. Perhaps as much as any event at these World Championships, the 200 butterfly is the biggest tossup. Heading into the week, there was little consensus as to which athlete was the favorite. And, after the preliminaries and semifinals, that scenario has not changed in the slightest bit. See what happens when the two-time defending champ and world-record holder (Michael Phelps) passes on the event.

Poland’s Pawel Korzeniowski registered the top time of the semifinals, but by a slim margin over Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda. Korzeniowski clocked in at 1:56.11 while Matsuda, a finalist in the 400 freestyle, touched the wall with a mark of 1:56.14. Also dipping under the 1:57 barrier were China’s Wu Peng (1:56.33) and Russia’s Nikolay Skvortsov (1:56.88).

The United States’ Davis Tarwater qualified in seventh with a time of 1:57.36, but senses he has a faster time in the arsenal. Germany’s Helge Meeuw heads to the final in fifth (1:57.07) and Greece’s Ioannis Drymonakos sits sixth in 1:57.16. The final berth to the championship heat was claimed by Japan’s Ryuichi Shibata in 1:57.36.

Men’s 800 Freestyle (JL)

The field for this 16-lap affair is loaded and there’s a possibility that Ian Thorpe’s world record, the 7:39.16 he posted at the 2001 World Championships, could go down. If the record does fall, expect Australia’s Grant Hackett to handle the chore. Then again, American Larsen Jensen looked strong during his qualifying heat.

Swimming in the same prelim race, Hackett and Jensen took the top two spots for the final. Hackett covered the distance in 7:47.62 while Jensen was just behind in 7:48.89. Both men have room for significant time drops and Jensen is basically a lock to shatter his own American record in the event, which stands at 7:48.09.

Russia’s Yuri Prilukov collected the third seed with a swim of 7:51.75 and finished slightly ahead of Great Britain’s David Davies, who covered his 800 meters in 7:51.92. Prilukov earned the silver medal in the 400 free earlier in the meet while Davies captured the bronze medal in the 1,500 free at last summer’s Olympic Games in Athens.

Although he may find difficulty staying with the top four qualifiers, Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli enters the final in the fifth spot after clocking 7:52.55. Mellouli won bronze in the 400 free on Sunday and is followed in sixth by Poland’s Przemyslaw Stanczyk (7:52.56), Poland’s Lukasz Drzewinski (7:53.33) and France’s Sebastien Rouault (7:54.04).

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