By John Lohn
MONTREAL, Canada, July 24. WHEN the second swimming session of the World Championships kicks into gear later tonight, the schedule will feature eight events, including a quartet of finals. Along with championship races in the men’s and women’s 400 freestyles, world titles will be on the line in the men’s and women’s 400 freestyle relays. Here’s a preview of the two championship events on the male side.
For months, the hype in the swimming world revolved – at least in part – around the impending duel at the World Champs between Australia’s Grant Hackett and American Michael Phelps. With Ian Thorpe bypassing the event, Hackett and Phelps were expected to carry the torch in the form of a championship showdown. Only Hackett, though, upheld his half of the bargain.
Cruising through the water at Parc Jean-Drapeau, Hackett easily won the final heat of the morning preliminaries with a time of 3:44.63. But, a heat earlier, Phelps experienced major disappointment, as he managed only seventh with a pedestrian effort of 3:50.53. That quickly, the event became a ho-hum race with Hackett, basically, assured victory.
Barring a stunning upset, Hackett will win his first world title in the 400 free. During the last three World Championships, the Aussie has claimed silver behind Thorpe. Should Hackett deliver, he will earn his 10th individual medal in World Champs action and his 13th overall, including relay action. Later this week, Hackett will try to become the first man in history to win a fourth consecutive world title, attempting the feat in the 1,500 free.
While Hackett is likely to be ahead of the field, the battle for the minor medals is shaping up to be a quality show. Romania’s Dragos Coman is seeded second (3:46.70), just ahead of Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda. Collecting a Japanese record, Matsuda popped a time of 3:47.28 and could be ready to go faster. Yet, even with Coman and Matsuda looking stellar in prelims, Russia’s Yuri Prilukov might be the best bet for silver.
More established in the 800 and 1,500 distances, Prilukov looked smooth in the morning heats, where he registered a time of 3:47.48. Prilukov has been 3:46.69 in the past. Improving on his personal best by nearly two seconds, the United States’ Peter Vanderkaay could be in the medal mix, though he will require another major drop in time. And, don’t discount Italy’s Massi Rosolino, the third-fastest performer in history and the seventh seed for the final.
400 Freestyle Relay
Once the undisputed king of this event, the United States has struggled in recent years. How bad? Well, the Stars and Stripes hasn’t taken gold in Olympic or World Championship competition since 1998. That’s a drought that is likely to end in a few hours. The U.S. is the top seed for the final, after producing a morning time of 3:16.04. Canada was second (3:16.80), nearly a second back.
This morning, the United States went with the quartet of Ben Wildman-Tobriner, Nate Dusing, Garrett Weber-Gale and Neil Walker. If split times are strictly followed, Weber-Gale (48.67) and Walker (48.29) likely will return to action this evening, joining Michael Phelps and Jason Lezak. The championship unit, if it clicks, should be in the 3:14 range.
The battle for silver and bronze is a wide-open affair, especially with Italy not qualifying for the final. The Italians withheld some of their top weapons this morning and missed the championship heat by one place. Look for Canada, Australia, Russia and Germany to battle for the silver and bronze. If Canada can find a place on the podium, the crowd will erupt at Parc Jean-Drapeau.