By John Lohn and Phil Whitten
MONTREAL, Canada, July 31. ALMOST done. The 11th edition of the FINA World Championships will conclude tonight with seven finals, capped by the United States’ push for a world record in the men’s 400-meter medley relay. Champions will be declared in the men’s 50 backstroke, women’s 50 breaststroke, men’s 400 individual medley, women’s 50 freestyle, men’s 1,500 free, women’s 400 I.M. and men’s 400 medley relay.
Men’s 50 backstroke (JL)
In a somewhat surprising development, the top qualifier for the final was Greece’s Aristeidis Grigoriadis, who covered the one-lap sprint in 25.11 during the semifinals. He’s followed as the second seed by Great Britain’s Liam Tancock (25.22). While Grigoriadis and Tancock will contend for medals, there’s more of a likelihood that podium slots will be secured by some veterans.
The defending champ and world-record holder, Germany’s Thomas Rupprath is the fourth seed for the night, but capable of turning it on when it counts. Rupprath qualified in 25.52, behind the 25.36 of Matt Welsh, the Australian veteran. Meanwhile, the United States has Aaron Peirsol (25.55) and Randall Bal (25.60) in the mix. Peirsol’s already won the 100 and 200 distances and Bal was the world champ in the 50 back in 2001.
Japan’s Junichi Miyashita qualified sixth in 25.58 and Germany’s Marco DiCarli qualified eighth in 25.69, but neither man is likely to corral a medal.
Women’s 50 Breaststroke (PW)
It's likely the world record will fall in the 50 breast tonight, but at least six of the finalists have a legitimate shot of bagging it. Australia's Jade Edmistone set a championship record of 30.61 seconds in the semis, only four hundredths off the WR. But she's shown a tendency to swim faster in the semis than the finals.
Second qualifier, Jessica Hardy (31.10) clearly has a faster swim in her, while Aussie Brooke Hanson and American Tara Kirk are superb sprinters. China's Luo Xuejuan, who set the previous CR at 30.65, is a bit off her game due to injury. Watch out for New Zealand's Zoe Baker in Lane 1. She could take it all!
Men’s 400 individual medley (JL)
The gold medal, certainly, should go to Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist and European record holder. Second in the 200 I.M. earlier in the week, where he challenged Michael Phelps through the 150-meter mark, Cseh has a chance to become the second man in history to break the 4:10 barrier. Phelps holds the world record at 4:08.26, but chose not to swim this event.
Although Cseh is the favorite and earned the top seed in 4:14.15, he’ll find major competition from the likes of American Ryan Lochte and Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli, a product of the University of Southern California. Lochte only qualified in seventh (4:17.26) and Mellouli was sixth (4:17.21), but both men looked easy during the morning and should have plenty of fuel for the final.
Italy’s Luca Marin was the second-fastest qualifier, going 4:15.18 and the United States’ Robert Margalis (4:16.25) earned the third seed, as both worked off Cseh during the preliminaries. Marin and Margalis will find winning a medal difficult, as Italy’s Alessio Boggiatto (4:16.46) is more of a threat. The final also includes Greece’s Ioannis Drymonakos (4:16.84) and Japan’s Hidemasa Sano (4:17.64).
Women’s 50 Freestyle (PW)
Marleen Veldhuis of The Netherlands qualified first in 24.92, seven hundredths ahead of short course WR-holder Therese Alshammar of Sweden. But Veldhuis has swum fast in prelim rounds before only to fizzle in the finals. She's got the speed, but does she have the mental toughness? That is the question.
Third qualifier, Aussie Lisbeth Lenton (25.05) has both, and we look to her to win the race over Veldhuis and Alshammar. The USA's rising young star, Kara Lynn Joyce, could sneak in for a medal, as could Aussie Alice Mills, though Mills has not swum up to expectations here.
Just missing the final were Olympic silver medalist Malia Metella of France, who was ninth, and the USA's Amanda Weir.
Men’s 1,500 Freestyle (JL)
History could be made in the metric mile, as Australia’s Grant Hackett is seeking a fourth consecutive world title in the event, a feat never before accomplished in any discipline. The world-record holder at 14:34.56 from 2001, Hackett could give that standard a run. Earlier this week, the distance ace notched a world record in the 800 free.
The Olympic bronze medalist, Great Britain’s David Davies had the only preliminary swim under 15:00 and led qualifying with a mark of 14:59.33. Hackett checked in second at 15:00.18 and Russia’s Yuri Prilukov, who won bronze in the 800 distance, was third in a swim of 15:01.03. American Larsen Jensen, the silver medalist in Athens, qualified fifth in 15:07.58, just behind Poland’s Mateusz Sawrymowicz (15:03.56).
Expect the finish to resemble last summer’s Olympics, although Prilukov could maneuver his way into the medal picture. The remainder of the final field includes France’s Sebastien Rouault (15:08.00), Germany’s Christian Hein (15:12.12) and China’s Zhang Lin (15:12.62).
Women’s 400 Individual Medley (PW)
The two youngest swimmers in the final of the 400 I.M. — 16 year-olds Katie Hoff (USA) and Zsuzsanna Jakabos (HUN) — qualified one and two. After her brilliant 200 I.M., Hoff should win the longer medley, possibly in CR time.
There should be a torrid battle for silver and bronze, with Olympic silver medalist Kaitlin Sandeno (USA) looking good for another silver. Jakabos; Hungarian teammate Eva Risztov; Aussie Lara Carroll; Argentina's Georgina Bardach, the Olympic bronze medalist; and the pride of Zimbabwe, Kirsty Coventry, could all challenge for a medal.
Men’s 400 Medley Relay (JL)
Barring disqualification, the United States will rout the field in the final event of the competition. The only question surrounds the Stars and Stripes’ ability to break the world record, which it holds at 3:30.68. There’s a good chance of that development unfolding, particularly with the world-record unit remaining intact. The U.S. will go to the final with Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker and Jason Lezak.
The race here is for the silver and bronze, and it’s shaping up to be a quality battle. Japan qualified second in 3:37.37 and seems to have room for a time drop. Meanwhile, Russia (3:37.83) was the third qualifier and was followed by Australia (3:38.23). Slovenia snared the fifth seed for the final, but likely maxed out at 3:38.40 for the prelims.
Germany (3:38.53) and France (3:38.85) qualified in sixth and seventh, respectively, and were followed in the eighth spot by New Zealand (3:41.36). Only New Zealand can be considered out of the equation for the minor medals.