FINA World Championships, Swimming: Observations Thus Far

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Guest editorial by John Craig

SHANGHAI, China, July 25. USUALLY at the biggest meets, it's apparent after the first day or two which swimmers, and also which countries, are having a good meet. It's rare that these patterns do not hold.

A few observations about the meet in Shanghai:

– The time zones do seem to make a difference. The Asian and Australian swimmers are generally swimming better than the Europeans and Americans. (For purposes of this discussion, Kosuke Kitajima gets classified as an American, since he has been training in this country and is acclimated to our West Coast time zone.) Even a week or ten days in a training camp in a new time zone is not going to allow swimmers from the other side of the world to completely beat jet lag; they will still be slightly out of whack.

– There is no meet schedule which is ideal for every swimmer. This particular schedule seems to hurt the 200/400 freestylers. Back in 2000, in Sydney, a 17-year-old Ian Thorpe had the expectations of all of Australia on his shoulders. After swimming two 400's and also anchoring the 400 freestyle relay the first night, Thorpe then swam two 200 free's the second day, and then had the finals of the 200 the third night. At that point fatigue set in, and he was beaten by Peter van den Hoogenband. The case can be made that by the summer of 2000 Thorpe was already basically a faster 200 freestyler than Hoogenband, but that Hoogenband was simply a fresher swimmer the third day of the Games after only swimming one 100 free relay leg on the first day. Will this "third-day effect" affect Yannick Agnel, Paul Biedermann, and Tae Hwan Park tonight in the finals of the 200 free? We'll see.

– Paul Biedermann has proven he is not just a suit swimmer. Yes, it was a travesty that he was able to beat Thorpe's 400 record by a hundredth of a second. But people forget he went a 1:44.8 early in '08 wearing just leggings, and was also one of the few freestyle finalists in Beijing who wore only leggings.

– It's interesting to see that two swimmers of average size, Tae Hwan Park and Rebecca Soni, are so dominant. It certainly sounds a hopeful note for all young swimmers of middling height.

– Speaking of Soni, does she have only one gear? Perhaps her edge over the rest of the world is such that she can afford to go so needlessly fast in her heat and semifinal swims. But it does seem a little extravagant.

– And speaking of Park, he has obviously been working on his underwaters and on his finishing speed. We got a glimpse of this at Santa Clara this year, and saw it in full force in the 400 in Shanghai. Of all the threats to Phelps and Lochte in the 200 free, he would seem to be the most dangerous — if he can overcome the third-day effect.

– Often at a meet like this you can tell which U.S. club teams hit their peak right and which didn't. The Cal swimmers (Dana Vollmer, Natalie Coughlin, Caitlin Leverenz, and Lauren Boyle) are swimming very well, but others are not. The Trojan swimmers (Kosuke Kitajima, Katinka Hosszu, Ous Mellouli, and Dave Walters) so far are having an off meet. This is not a knock on Dave Salo; this writer happens to admire Salo's courage in being the first major coach to bring down the yardage, and his long-term record is phenomenal. But his swimmers, with exception of Soni, seem to be off a touch at this meet.

– There have been some very impressive swims so far from swimmers in their off events, which bodes for some great performances later on. Daniel Gyurta just did a lifetime best in the 100 breast; watch for an incredible 200 breast from him. Likewise, Ryan Cochrane just had a PB by a wide margin in the 400 free, which was never his strongest event; watch for his 800 and 1500 frees. And Ryosuke Irie just did a best time in the 100 back; he looks ready for a great 200 back. The reverse also holds true. Michael Cavic, after not making the finals of the 50 fly, looks to still be on the comeback trail after his operation, and Phelps could have clear sailing in that event for once.

– Given that we have never seen a blazing 50 time from James Magnussen, and judging from the way he split his 100 free leadoff leg (23.10, 24.39), one would think he has a great 200 in him. The 100 freestylers who have been better on the second half – like van den Hoogenband, and Phelps — are quite often great 200 swimmers.

It's been a great meet so far, as measured by number of textile bests we've seen. Looking forward to the rest of the meet.