By John Lohn and Phil Whitten
MONTREAL, Canada, July 30. WE’RE coming to the finish at these World Championships, as the competition concludes on Sunday. Tonight, there are six finals on the schedule, including the latest edition of Crocker vs. Phelps in the men’s 100-meter butterfly. Medals will also be distributed in the women’s 50 fly, men’s 50 freestyle, women’s 200 backstroke, women’s 800 free and women’s 400 medley relay. Here’s a glance at those races.
Women’s 50 Butterfly (PW)
In a strong 50 fly field, the top two qualifiers are newcomers to the international scene. Australia's Danni Miatke, the youngest finalist, qualified first in 26.30 with Austria's Fabienne Nadarajah second at 26.51. Lurking in the No. 3 spot is Sweden's Anna-Karin Kammerling, the WR-holder while her teammate, Therese Alshammar, qualified seventh.
The USA's Natalie Coughlin — the fastest woman under water — is tied for fifth with Germany's Antje Buschschulte. This is anybody's race, but we give an edge to Miatke, Kammerling and Coughlin as the most likely to collect the medals tonight.
Men’s 50 Freestyle (JL)
Who’s the fastest man in the world? The answer will be determined in a flat-out sprint that lasts about 22 seconds. With the 50 free holding very little margin for error, it can be argued that any of the eight finalists have a shot at gold. Still, there are a few names that must be considered favorites, including South Africa’s Roland Schoeman and Croatia’s Duje Draganja.
Schoeman posted the fastest time of the semifinal round, a 22.09 effort. Already the winner of gold in the 50 butterfly and the silver medalist in the 100 free, Schoeman probably has a slight edge on his opposition. But, watch out for Draganja, the silver medalist in the event from Athens, where Schoeman claimed bronze. Although qualified sixth, Draganja is one of the world’s purest sprinters.
Poland’s Bartosz Kizierowski and Algeria’s Salim Iles share the third seed for the championship race, as both enter the final with times of 22.14. Kizierowski, though, went 22.08 in the preliminaries, the swiftest time of the opening two rounds. American Nick Brunelli and Spain’s Eduard Lorente notched identical swims of 22.19 during the semifinals.
Russia’s Andrey Kapralov earned the seventh seed for the final while France’s Fred Bousquet took the eighth seed. An Auburn University product, Bousquet is the NCAA champ in the 50 free and the world-record holder in the short-course version of the event. When Bousquet set that record, he accomplished the feat in an outside lane, exactly where he’ll be in this final.
Women’s 200 Backstroke (PW)
Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry was the only swimmer to break 2:11 in the 200 back semis, and her 2:09.88 leaves her the clear favorite to reprise her Olympic title. Japan's Mai Nakamura and the USA's Margaret Hoelzer qualified second and third. We think that's the way they'll end up tonight.
Only teenager Stanislava Komarova (Russia) and 20-year-old Louise Ornstedt (Denmark) appear to have a realistic shot of breaking into the minor medals, but China's 14-year-old Zhao Jing is an unknown and may surprise.
Men’s 100 Butterfly (JL)
Here we go again. One of the best rivalries in the sport will be rekindled when Americans Ian Crocker and Michael Phelps tangle in the final of the men’s 100-meter butterfly. Crocker is the world-record holder (50.76) and the defending champion while Phelps is the Olympic titlist. Once again, they should produce a classic battle.
The silver medalist in Athens, Crocker has been all business during the first two rounds of qualifying and posted a sizzling mark of 51.08 during his semifinal, the best time by nearly a second. As for Phelps, he checked in with the second-fastest qualifying time, a 52.02. Look for the race to unfold as it has in the past, with Crocker building an early lead and Phelps trying to catch him down the stretch.
Russia’s Igor Marchenko and Evgeny Korotyshkin took the third and fourth seeds for the final, as Marchenko sped 52.23 and Korotyshkin went 52.68. The Ukraine’s Andriy Serdinov will play a major role in the race, despite his fifth-seed time of 52.75. Serdinov is the Olympic bronze medalist and the third-fastest performer in history, behind Crocker and Phelps.
The remainder of the championship heat includes Japan’s Ryo Takayasu (52.84), Brazil’s Kaio Almeida and Canada’s Mike Mintenko. Almeida and Mintenko both posted semifinal times of 52.92. Notable names missing from the race are Serbia and Montenegro’s Milorad Cavic and Germany’s Thomas Rupprath, who finished 10th and 12th, respectively.
Women’s 800 Freestyle (PW)
This is a solid field with every finalist having a legitimate shot at earning a medal. We think 1500-meter champion Kate Ziegler, who qualified sixth, will emerge with her second individual gold. She can expect strong challenges from Switzerland's Flavia Rigamonti, Japan's Ai Shibata and the crowd favorite — and top qualifier — Canada's Brittany Reimer.
Britain's Rebecca Cooke and Romania's Camelia Potec, who have had disappointing meets thus far, could get into the medal fray as could German veteran Jana Henke.
Women’s 400 Medley Relay (PW)
This event will feature two contests: The battle between Australia and the USA for gold, and the fight among the remaining six teams for bronze. The gold medal contest may go down to the wire, but we give the nod to the Sheilas from Down Under. China would be favored for bronze but Luo Xuejuan's injury will hurt. Germany or Italy will probably take advantage to move into third.