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Courtesy of: Joan Marc Bosch
Courtesy of: Joan Marc Bosch
By David Rieder
BARCELONA, Spain, August 2. PRIOR to the 2000 Olympics, when semi-finals became part of the swimming program, no one thought of swimming three times in one finals session at a major meet. Even in the years since, few have gone so far as to pull off a triple. Michael Phelps swam three races in one session at the 2004 Olympic Trials, the finals of the 200 back and 200 IM and semi-finals of the 100 fly, and Ryan Lochte repeated the feat last year. Both qualified for the Olympic team in both events and then advanced to the final of the fly. However, nothing compares to the program Lochte faced tonight.
In his first race, Lochte attempted to defend his world championship in the 200 back and win his third title in four attempts. Lochte faced Ryosuke Irie, the only swimmer who had swum under 1:55 this year, along with Olympic gold medalist Tyler Clary, and a surprising breakout swim from Poland's Radoslaw Kawecki. Lochte took the race out hard, led the whole way, and hit the wall in 1:53.79, faster than the 1:53.94 he swam in last year's Olympic final. Credit should go to Kawecki as well for making Lochte work, and his 1:54.24 silver medal-winning time crushed his previous best by over a second. Four years after first qualifying for a World Championship final, Kawecki has made the jump to the next level.
About an hour later, Lochte swam in the semi-finals of the men's 100 fly. Swimming in lane one of semi-final two after qualifying 13th in prelims, Lochte blitzed the field down the stretch, touching first in 51.48 for a lifetime best, the second-fastest time in the world this year, and most surprisingly, the top qualifying time. While some figured Lochte could contend in the 100 fly, despite having never swum the event internationally, few expected him to go into the race's final as one of the favorites for gold. Sure, only three tenths of a second separated the final, and co-Olympic silver medalists Chad Le Clos and Evgeny Korotyshkin figure to be tough, Lochte has a real shot.
Just minutes later, Lochte had to step up once again to swim the second leg on the American men's 800 free relay. Phelps had attempted that double several times, swimming the fly semis and then on the relay, but he had rarely swum close to his times from the individual event under those circumstances. Entering the water with a deficit of a half second after an impressive leadoff leg of 1:45.14 by Danila Izotov, Lochte out-split Nikita Lobintsev by more than a second. He split 1:44.98, well faster than the 1:45.64 he swam in the individual 200 free on his way to fourth place.
Sure, the other American men stepped to the plate when faced with the challenge. Conor Dwyer continued his strong meet with a leadoff leg to hang with earlier leaders Izotov and Yannick Agnel, Charlie Houchin repeated his prelims split of 1:45-mid, and Ricky Berens validated the coaches' faith in him on the anchor leg with a 1:45.39 split, obliterating his prelims time of 1:47.06. For sure, though, Lochte's leg set the table for the relay's overall performance, as he took the lead that the Americans would never relinquish. Lochte admitted to not feeling his best in the water earlier in the week, but now, he has returned to the form associated with the world's most versatile swimmer.
Medley Relay Check: Australian Teams Lack Fourth Piece
Today's finals of the women's 100 free and semi-finals of the men's 100 fly continued to paint the picture for the meet ending 400 medley relays. On the women's side, Australia has their ace in Cate Campbell, who has now swum 52.3 twice this week, while Missy Franklin, who finished in a relatively-disappointing fourth place, has swum a best time of 53.37. Still, no Aussie advanced to the semi-finals of the 100 breast, giving Jessica Hardy a huge advantage and allowing the Americans to remain big favorites. To overcome the free disadvantage, the Americans may consider using Megan Romano on the anchor leg, especially after her stellar gold medal-clinching 52.60 anchor leg on the medley relay earlier in the week.
On the men's side, the Australians had been co-favorites with the Americans or perhaps even the slight favorites headed into the 100 fly. That has definitely changed. The top Australian in the race, Tomasso D'Orsogna, finished 19th at 52.82, well behind Lochte's 51.48 in the semi-finals. At the very least, the fly leg will cancel out any big advantage Christian Sprenger takes over Kevin Cordes on the breaststroke leg, and the American advantage on backstroke should put them over the top. No other country has more than two medal-caliber legs of the medley, and only the Americans can put together a full 400.
Check out David Rieder's Facebook page to see more of his thoughts on the FINA World Championships and his updated race predictions prior to each finals session.