American Winning Streaks Halted at FINA World Championships

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr

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By David Rieder

At the 1994 FINA World Championships in Rome, Vladimir Selkov picked up the gold medal in the men’s 200 back. The next time the world’s best convened in Perth in 1998, Lenny Krayzelburg won gold, and the U.S. would go onto win the eight straight titles in the event, with Aaron Peirsol and Ryan Lochte combining for the next seven. Krayzelburg, Peirsol, Lochte, and Tyler Clary each accounted for the gold medal at one of the four Olympic Games during that span.

In Barcelona at the 2003 Worlds, Australia won the 800 free relay after Ian Thorpe pulled away from American Klete Keller with a blistering anchor leg. A year later, however, Keller held off Thorpe for the Olympic gold in an incredible finish, and since then, the U.S. had had not been defeated in the race and had won five straight World titles in that span. Lochte had swum on the U.S. 800 free relay for 11 straight years and never lost.

Both of those streaks came to an end today in Kazan. Few would call the 200 back victory for Australian Mitch Larkin an upset after he blazed to a win in the 100 back earlier in the week. His time of 52.38 in that event ranked as the best since 2012. He backed that up with a just-as-impressive and even-more-dominating win in the 200 back, clocking 1:53.58. Poland’s Radoslaw Kawecki ended up second, just ahead of Russia’s Evgeny Rylov.

As for the Americans, Ryan Murphy finished fifth while Clary ended up a disappointing seventh. Clary, who swam a 1:54.64 to earn the bronze medal at Worlds just two years ago, did not look like a strong medal threat heading into the race, but Murphy had qualified second at 1:55.10. In the end, Murphy still swam a lifetime best (1:55.00), but he just did not have enough the last 50 to hang with Kawecki, Rylov, and Ryosuke Irie.

Jun 21, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Ryan Murphy (USA) won the Men's 200M Backstroke Final in a time of 1:57.06 during the Championship Finals of day four at the George F. Haines International Swim Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

The loss of the 800 free relay world crown will sting even more for the Americans, who looked like the favorites despite losing Michael Phelps (suspension) and Matt McLean (injury) from last year’s top foursome. They chose to front-load the relay with Lochte and Conor Dwyer before turning things over to newcomers Reed Malone and Michael Weiss.

Lochte led off in 1:45.71, and Dwyer followed with a strong split of 1:45.33. Malone looked rocky in the prelims, where he led off in 1:48.21, but the World University Games gold medalist bounced back in finals with a 1:46.92 split. On the anchor leg, Weiss split 1:46.79, just a bit behind his 1:46.14 from prelims, but that was not enough as 200 free World Champion James Guy blitzed a 1:44.74 split to pass Weiss and earn Great Britain’s first-ever World title in the 800 free relay.


Photo Courtesy: R-Sport / MIA Rossiya Segodnya

After another disappointing performance for the United States, the team finds itself with just 14 total medals, a mere five of them gold, after six days of swimming. Great Britain, after their relay triumph this evening, and Australia both also have five gold medals, while the Aussies and Chinese each have 11 medals total, just three fewer than the U.S. collection. While 21 total medals at the 1994 Worlds looked like a low point for the Americans, they could be on track to earn even less in Kazan.

But take a look even deeper into that medal total. Katie Ledecky has won three of the five American gold medals by herself and contributed to another on the women’s 800 free relay on Thursday. The once-vaunted U.S. men’s team has won just a single gold medal, Lochte in the 200 IM and only three more individual medals. American medal contenders such as Missy Franklin, Nathan Adrian, and Connor Jaeger have all been disappointed in their finishes.

Sure, the Americans have a year to get things turned around before the Olympics in Rio. Their record at previous Olympics indicates that they will improve during those 12 months, but will it be enough? The Australian women again look like the premier team in the world, as they did in 2008 and before, while Great Britain and other European countries have made strides on the men’s side. After a historically-poor performance at Worlds, the U.S. faces an uphill battle back to dominance.

Race of the Meet, Round Two

Saturday’s final of the women’s 200 back will feature, in the top two qualifiers, two women who have earned impressive victories already this week in Kazan. The third qualifier for that final has won the past two World titles, took Olympic gold in 2012, and holds the world record. Expect a good one between Katinka Hosszu, Emily Seebohm, and Missy Franklin.

Jun 21, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Katinka Hosszu (HUN) won the Women's 200M Backstroke final with a time of 2:07.93 during the Championship Finals of day four at the George F. Haines International Swim Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

Hosszu, who earlier in the week set a world record in the 200 IM to win in 2:06.12, looked strong in today’s semi-final after a rough stretch of races on Wednesday. She clocked 2:06.18 to lead the way in qualification, holding off Seebohm in their semi-final heat. Seebohm, who won the 100 back on Tuesday, swam a lifetime-best time of 2:06.56 to earn lane five. Franklin, meanwhile, had already won the first semi-final in 2:07.79, just 15 minutes after finishing seventh in the 100 free final.

Franklin will come in fresh for the final, having no other races on the day, so expect her to be able to stick with Hosszu and Seebohm. While clearly off of her best form this week, Franklin has experience in winning − in fact, dominating − this event in big finals. In contrast, Hosszu has appeared in just one World Champs final in backstroke, finishing sixth in the 200 in 2013, while Seebohm had yet to contest the 200 back at a World Championships or Olympics before this meet.

Adrian and Cordes Bright Spots for Team USA

Despite an all-around disappointing evening for the American men, they saw two bright spots in Nathan Adrian and Kevin Cordes. Adrian finished an extremely disappointing seventh in the 100 free in 48.31, but splitting 22.45 to the feet in the semi-finals indicated his 50 speed may be on point. Sure enough, he ripped one in today’s semi-final to qualify first for the final. Adrian clocked 21.37 to clip Cullen Jones’ tech suit-era American record of 21.41 and lead Olympic gold medalist Florent Manaudou by four one-hundredths into the final.

Jun 21, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Nathan Adrian (USA) was the fastest qualifier in the Men's 100M Freestyle during the morning session of day four at the George F. Haines International Swim Center in Santa Clara, Calif. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Courtesy: Robert Stanton/USA Today Sports Images

Cordes, meanwhile, swam an strong race to pick up a silver medal in the 200 breast. The American known for inconsistent performances in big long course meets before the competition started delivered a standout one, clocking 2:08.05 to edge out Olympic gold medalist Daniel Gyurta for silver behind gold medalist Marco Koch. The medal was Cordes’ third of the meet, having already won a bronze in the 50 breast and a silver on the mixed 400 medley relay. He will have a chance to wrap up a successful World Champs with the men’s medley relay on Sunday.

Phelps Comfortable and Impressive in First Swim at Nationals
Making his much-anticipated debut at U.S. Nationals in San Antonio, Michael Phelps qualified first for the final of the men’s 200 fly, the event in which he has won 10 National titles, five World titles, and a pair of Olympic gold medals. Phelps clocked 1:55.15 in prelims, the 10th-best time in the world and comfortably the best among Americans. Afterwards, Phelps claimed he felt good throughout the race, calling it “a good morning swim.”


Photo Courtesy: Peter Bick

After struggling over the final 50 meters of the race during most of his competitions this season, Phelps looked much more relaxed on the way home this morning, despite his 30.48 split. After the race, North Baltimore coach Bob Bowman said he believed that Phelps put the race into cruise control on the last lap and that he can improve on his time in the evening. “He’ll definitely swim it more aggressively,” Bowman said, discussing the race in the final this evening.

Asked whether Phelps could challenge Laszlo Cseh’s winning time in the event from the World Championships (1:53.48), Bowman answered, “that’s a pretty tall order. He (Phelps) can definitely go better off than that (his prelims time), so we’ll see.” And he’s got some competition here in San Antonio, as well. Short course American record-holder Jack Conger qualified second in prelims in 1:56.19, and after scratching the 200 free final, Conger could be in a position to beat the 1:55.75 that Tom Shields swam at Worlds to become the number two American in the event this year.