Nathan Adrian, Kevin Cordes and Josh Prenot Ready for Wednesday Night Lights

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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By David Rieder.

For a few scary minutes Tuesday afternoon, Nathan Adrian’s chances at a title defense in the 100 free hung in the balance. Adrian swam a 48.58 to finish fourth in the seventh of eight heats. He finished well but only after going out in an abnormally sluggish 23.46.

Would he even make it back? He had just one heat to wait through—surely it felt like longer—before he could take a deep breath. He was 16th, three one-hundredths ahead of Japan’s Katsumi Nakamura. But if he had any hopes of advancing to the final, it was clear he needed something much faster in the semifinals.

But in typical Adrian fashion, he refused to sweat his outside lane for the semifinal.

“After I touched, that’s all I could do,” Adrian said. “Had to wait one heat. Glad I didn’t pull a Jason Lezak from 2004 (missing the semifinals). I got lucky this time.”

In the semis, he would need no luck. Slightly behind the field at the turn, Adrian powered his underwaters and his typical straight-arm, no-breath finish and came in at 47.83, good for the right to swim in lane four in the final.

“He had a lane tonight, and he showed up and raced—that’s what!” said fellow American Caeleb Dressel, who qualified fifth for the final in 47.97.

But the battle is not yet won, as a tight final heat awaits. Vladimir Morozov finished ninth at 48.23, and five men went under 48 seconds, including Dressel’s former Bolles teammate Santo Condorelli and Australians Cameron McEvoy and Kyle Chalmers.

McEvoy entered the meet as the gold medal favorite after posting a 47.04—the second-fastest time ever—in April. But the 18-year-old Chalmers has been the story so far in Rio, twice lowering his own World Junior Record Tuesday, and he has the best finishing speed in the field. His 24.23 homecoming split in prelims ranks as the second-best ever, behind just Michael Phelps’ 24.20 in Beijing eight years ago.

*Calling a race wide open feels cliché, but that certainly applies to the men’s 200 breast. Defending gold medalist Daniel Gyurta missed making the semifinals, and World Champion Marco Koch will be swimming the final out of lane one. Five men broke 2:08 in the semifinals, and those five have combined for a grand total zero Olympic medals in their careers.

Japan’s Ippei Watanabe qualified first in 2:07.22, the third-fastest swim in history behind Akihiro Yamaguchi’s world record of 2:07.01 and Josh Prenot’s 2:07.14 from U.S. Olympic Trials last month. Great Britain’s Andrew Willis edged Prenot for the No. 2 spot in the semis, and they were followed by Japan’s Yasuhiro Koseki and the USA’s Kevin Cordes.

The two Americans will swim in adjacent lanes, but as was evident at Olympic Trials, the two take radically different approaches to the 200 breast. Cordes goes out quickly, almost always well under world record-pace. In the final at Olympic Trials, he went out in 1:00.77, almost a full second faster than Yamaguchi’s WR split.

“The last 50 of that world record split is so fast, so you have to be in front of it if you want a shot,” Cordes said. “I was really just trying to swim my own race, swim a good race and make it into finals.”

Then there’s Josh Prenot, who has some of the best finishing speed in the world. Prenot will likely be behind the rest of the field—particularly Cordes—in the final, but he’s perfectly okay with that.

“Freshman and sophomore years, I was not comfortable being behind in races—I had to be on the lead or behind the second-place guy,” Prenot said. “I’m definitely kind of settling in to being comfortable with being behind. I feel like that’s how Michael [Phelps] kind of built his career. That’s when I have my best races.”

This will be Prenot’s first major international final, but Cordes put together an excellent race in last year’s World Championship final, winning the silver medal behind Koch in 2:08.05, but the race has gotten so much quicker in the 12 months since. Cordes also finished fourth in the 100 breast Sunday night in a disappointing time of 59.22.

“Would have liked to have medaled, but that’s not the way it went,” Cordes said. “Definitely gave me more motivation to come out here and hopefully doing it tomorrow night.”

*Leading off the U.S. men’s 800 free relay Tuesday night, Conor Dwyer gave the Americans a small lead, but it ballooned when Townley Haas got in the water. It was pretty quickly evident that the sophomore-to-be at Texas was having a nice race, even before he went out in 49.76.

Haas ended up splitting 1:44.14, seven tenths of a second faster than the next best split in the race, which belonged to World Champion James Guy. It far exceeded Haas’ own lifetime best of 1:45.58 that he swam on his way to a fifth-place finish in the 200 free a day earlier.

Dwyer joked that he had expected the effort all along.

“I said three-nine to him in the warmup pool, and he split a four-one, so I was pretty close,” Dwyer said.

Haas admitted that watching Phelps’ tight victory in the 200 fly gave him a little bit of extra juice for the relay swim, but even he did not see that sort of big drop coming.

Of course, this was not the first time this year Haas has dropped some mind-blowing split—back in March, he threw down a 1:30.52 split on Texas’ 800-yard free relay at the NCAA Championships, two days before he went a 1:30.46 from a flat-start to obliterate the fastest time in history.

Consider that split just a glimpse of what Haas is capable of. With turns not his strength, Haas’ long course swimming figures to eventually exceed his short course. His distance background—he was the NCAA champion in the 500 free this year as well—means he’s unlikely to fade. And it takes some serious speed to go out under 50, even if it is from a relay exchange.

Haas got his opportunity Tuesday night to swim one 800 free relay with three of the greatest in U.S. history, but the mantle will be his to carry soon enough. If what we’ve seen so far is any indication, he will be up for the challenge.

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Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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