World Champs Prelims, Day 1: Phelps Misses Final of 400 Free; Kitajima and Hansen Cook in 100 Breast

By John Lohn

MONTREAL, Canada, July 24. IT didn’t take long for the World Championships to uncork a major surprise, only this development was a stunner of negative proportions. Appearing comfortable midway through his 400 freestyle heat, the United States’ Michael Phelps faded badly over the last 100 meters and finished 18th overall, easily missing the evening final.

Heading into the meet, Phelps was looking to win eight medals at this event, an accomplishment he enjoyed last summer at the Athens Olympics. Now, however, Phelps is looking for answers to why his first race unfolded so poorly. Originally expected to challenge Australia’s Grant Hackett in the 400 free, Phelps managed a mark of only 3:50.53.

“This is not the way I wanted to start off,” Phelps said. “The warmup was good, but it didn’t happen in the race. I’m pretty disappointed with the overall race. I do have a relay race tonight and will leave this result behind and step up for the race coming up.”

The men’s 100 breaststroke, undoubtedly, featured the finest duel of the morning, as Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima and the United States’ Brendan Hansen both dipped under the one-minute barrier. Two of the three men in history to break a minute, Kitajima and Hansen won gold and silver, respectively, in Athens. Kitajima won the race in 59.71, second fastest in history, behind Hansen’s world record of 59.30. Hansen was clocked in 59.84, fourth-fastest all-time.

Women’s 100 Butterfly

If the preliminaries are any indication of what is to come, Australia’s Jessicah Schipper is clearly the class of the field. Using a strong back half, Schipper overtook the Netherlands’ Inge Dekker during the final 50 meters and popped a championship-record time of 57.91. Dekker, meanwhile, checked in with the second-fastest performance of the morning session, an effort of 58.48.

Poland’s Otylia Jedrzejcak, the top seed and Olympic silver medalist, won the last heat of the prelims with the only other time under the 59-second barrier. Jedrzejcak produced a swim of 58.83, which was slightly faster than the 59.05 mark that Australia’s Libby Lenton used to win the penultimate heat. Lenton was followed to the wall by the United States’ Rachel Komisarz (59.19).

En route to second place in her heat, behind Jedrzejcak, American Mary DeScenza touched the wall in 59.13, good for fifth heading into the semifinals. Eleven women dipped under the one-minute barrier. Martina Moravcova, the longtime international staple from Slovakia, had the seventh-fastest swim of the morning, as she stopped the clock in 59.33, narrowly quicker than the 59.36 showing of Germany’s Annika Mehlhorn.

Men’s 400 Freestyle

Although Australia’s Grant Hackett led the qualifiers for the championship final with a splendid prelim swim of 3:44.63, the story of the event was Michael Phelps’ poor showing. Near the lead at the 300-meter mark, Phelps continually faded over the final two laps and finished seventh in his heat. Immediately, his 3:50.53 swim took the luster off the final.

Seeking his first world title in the 400 free, Hackett is all but assured of that crown, particularly with Phelps out of the picture. Hackett was followed in qualifying by Romania’s Dragos Coman (3:46.70) and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda, who finished second to Hackett in the eighth heat, behind a swim of 3:47.28, Japanese record.

“I was surprised he didn’t make it,” Hackett said, referring to Phelps. “The first 10 meters, I was thinking about it. That was my fastest morning swim ever.”

The positive for the United States was Peter Vanderkaay’s effort of 3:47.59, good for the fifth seed in the final. Vanderkaay qualified for the evening session just behind Russia’s Yuri Prilukov, who hit the pads in 3:47.48. The field for the championship race was rounded out by Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli (3:48.89), Italy’s Massi Rosolino (3:48.93) and France’s Nicholas Rostoucher (3:49.00).

Women’s 200 Individual Medley

Closing strong in the freestyle leg, the United States’ Katie Hoff claimed ownership of the shorter I.M., opening her competition with a time of 2:12.38. Hoff wasted little time taking the lead in the heat and appears on track to break her American record in the event, which stands at 2:11.24. Hoff was followed in her heat by Australia’s Lara Carroll, who had the morning’s second-fastest time of 2:13.67.

Finishing third after the morning session was Australia’s Brooke Hanson, the Olympic silver medalist in the 100 breaststroke. In a field loaded with talent, Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry took down the fourth qualifying slot for the semifinals, with a mark of 2:14.51. At the Athens Olympics, Coventry was the bronze-medal winner in the 200 I.M.

Securing the fifth slot for the semifinals was Japan’s Maiko Fujino (2:15.45) and the sixth position went to Poland’s Katarzyna Baranowska (2:15.46). The top eight was completed by China’s Yafei Zhou (2:16.03) and the United States’ Whitney Myers (2:16.50. Twelve athletes managed a time under 2:17.

Men’s 50 Butterfly

The world-record holder in the event, American Ian Crocker sizzled a 23.50 performance to top all qualifiers heading into the semifinals of the one-lap fly. Competing in the last heat of the prelims, Crocker battled South Africa’s Ryk Neethling to the wall. Neethling touched in 23.74, the third-fastest effort of the morning.

South Africa’s Roland Schoeman proved he’s in top form for the World Champs, as he notched the second-fastest swim of the preliminaries. Schoeman, a favorite for gold in the 50 and 100 freestyle events, hit the wall in 23.57 while swimming in the 11th of 14 heats. The fourth-fastest mark was turned in by the Ukraine’s Sergiy Breus (23.77) and fifth was taken by Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin (23.87).

Denmark’s Jakob Andkjaer and Brazil’s Fernando Scherer tied for sixth place with times of 23.96, the last marks under 24 seconds. Germany’s Thomas Rupprath place eighth in 24.07, just ahead of Canada’s Mike Mintenko and Croatia’s Duje Draganja, who posted identical swims of 24.08. The Ukraine’s Andriy Serdinov was 11th in 24.09.

Women’s 400 Freestyle

En route to the top qualifying time for the evening finals, Canada’s Brittany Reimer brought the hometown crowd to its collective feet, as she won her heat in 4:08.28, defeating a pair of well-respected international standouts. Romania’s Camelia Potec was just behind Reimer in 4:08.40 and Japan’s Ai Shibata hit the wall in third with a time of 4:08.82.

Swimming in the last of five heats, Olympic champion Laure Manaudou (France) barely made the final, as her time of 4:11.46 was good for only the eighth seed at night. The British duo of Joanne Jackson (4:10.47) and Caitlin McClatchey (4:10.48) finished in fourth and fifth for the final. Costa Rica’s Claudia Poll qualified in sixth (4:10.88) and Australia’s Linda Mackenzie was seventh in 4:11.13.

The United States failed to advance either of its two entries into the final, as Carly Piper was 10th (4:12.96) and Kelsey Ditto finished 16th (4:15.63). Another notable name failing to qualifying for the championship race was Japan’s Sachiko Yamada. Training with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, Yamada was 12th in 4:13.97.

Men’s 100 Breaststroke

There’s no debating the rivalry between Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima and the United States’ Brendan Hansen, the fastest men ever in the event. The two have been rivals for the past four years and Kitajima won gold at last summer’s Olympics, during a race that included controversy over Kitajima’s use of an apparent dolphin kick off the start and turn.

Swimming next to each other in the final heat of the prelims, Hansen and Kitajima battled stroke for stroke. Hansen held the lead at the 50-meter mark, going 28.17 to a 28.34 for Kitajima. The Japanese star, however, edged ahead during the final 50 meters and clocked 59.71 to the 59.84 of Hansen. Other than those two men, only Roman Sloudnov has broke one minute.

France’s Hugues Duboscq had the third-fastest qualifying time and became the fifth-fastest performer in history behind a swim of 1:00.05. Duboscq, the bronze-medal winner at the Athens Olympics, was followed in fourth by Great Britain’s Chris Cook, who sped a 1:00.86. Oleg Lisogor was fifth in 1:01.05 and sixth went to Slovenia’s Emil Tahirovic (1:01.29). The top eight was filled out by Canada’s Mike Brown (1:01.30) and Japan’s Genki Imamura (1:01.37).

Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay

As expected, Australia earned the top seed for the championship final, as the foursome of Jodie Henry, Alice Mills, Shayne Reese and Sophie Edington posted a time of 3:40.57, slightly quicker than the 3:40.84 mark of France. The United States checked in at fifth (3:41.64), but should improve dramatically tonight with the likes of Natalie Coughlin and Amanda Weir added to the lineup.

Germany heads into the final in third at 3:41.35 and the Netherlands claimed fourth in the prelims in 3:41.55. That time was made possible by an anchor split of 53.74 from Marleen Veldhuis. China (3:41.89), Sweden (3:42.03) and New Zealand (3:45.36) completed the field for the finals.

In placing fifth, the U.S. relied on the foursome of Kara Lynn Joyce (55.23), Emily Silver (55.84), Mary DeScenza (55.65) and Lacey Nymeyer (3:41.64).

Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay

The United States had little trouble grabbing the top spot for the championship race, as a 3:16.04 mark in the second heat stood up as the top qualifying time. After Ben Wildman-Tobriner opened with a 50.16 leg, the Longhorn Aquatics trio of Nate Dusing (48.92), Garrett Weber-Gale (48.67) and Neil Walker (48.29) closed out the relay.

The biggest surprises of the event were Canada and Italy, but for two different reasons. Riding the cheers of the home crowd, Canada earned the second-fastest qualifying time, going 3:16.80 and relying on an anchor split of 48.23 from Brent Hayden. As for Italy, an error in judgment left the nation out of the final. Not swimming any of its big guns in the prelims – Filippo Magnini and Lorenzo Vismara – Italy placed ninth.

Australia was third fastest (3:17.63), followed by Russia (3:18.22) and Lithuania (3:18.57). The field for the final also includes Sweden (3:18.61), Germany (3:18.87) and the Netherlands (3:18.93). Italy’s time was 3:19.12.

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