Rare Display of Youth in Men’s Swimming On Final Day of World Championships

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By David Rieder

BARCELONA, Spain, August 4. SOMEONE watching day eight of the FINA World Championships saw a similar display to the final day of action at last summer’s Olympics: excitement in the sprint 50s, a distance masterpiece from Sun Yang, and American dominance on display in the medley relays. With his 46.69 anchor leg of the men’s relay, Nathan Adrian showed he can achieve far more than his disappointing results from the week, but Kevin Cordes’ DQ turned the top storyline of the night, interestingly, into the French gold rush, as Camille Lacourt ended up pocketing two gold medals after not sniffing the podium previously during the week.

This day of swimming differed from the Olympics with the inclusion of the 400 IM events on the final day, both events held on day one last year in London. The results of women’s race didn’t shock anyone, as Katinka Hosszu earned her second gold medal of the meet, and Spaniard Mireia Belmonte Garcia rode the home crowd to her second silver. Elizabeth Beisel, meanwhile, swam close to her lifetime best to grab third after what a year in which she admitted to not having trained at her usual level and consistency. Maya Dirado, meanwhile, put up a bit of a breakout swim with a lifetime best performance of 4:32.70, while Ye Shiwen, the Olympic champion and world record-holder, couldn’t finish higher than seventh.

While established names picked up the top spots in the women’s race, the men turned a page that had been many years in the making. Michael Phelps dominated the event from 2003 until 2008, when he set the still-standing world record of 4:03.84. Immediately thereafter, Ryan Lochte took over, winning the event consistently from 2009 until 2012 and leading the world rankings each year. In the meantime, Laszlo Cseh remained a consistent contender in the event, winning gold in the event at the 2005 World Championships as well as minor medals at the 2003 and 2009 Worlds and Olympic medals in 2004 and 2008.

However, after Cseh barely missed the Olympic final a year ago, finishing less than a tenth of a second behind eighth-place Phelps, he decided to move on from his signature event at the age of 27, and he leaves Barcelona with a medal in an event he had never seriously contested, the 100 fly. Meanwhile, this year’s final featured three favorites who didn’t even swim the event at the 2011 Worlds. Kosuke Hagino, just 18, entered as the favorite after winning Olympic bronze last year, and he held the fastest time in the world at 4:07.61. Meanwhile, a pair of 19 year olds, Chase Kalisz and Daiya Seto, qualified first and second. Seto had won the World Short Course title last December in the biggest swim of his career at the point, while Kalisz won gold at Junior Pan Pacs less than a year ago.

Hagino entered the meet with the intention of becoming one of the most versatile swimmers on the planet. He ended up swimming in six finals, winning silver medals in the 400 free and 200 IM, but he fell short in the biggest of moments, fading to fifth in this final after leading with a 50 to go. He retained the world’s top-time, though, as Seto ended up winning in 4:08.69, ahead of Kalisz’ 4:09.22. Veterans Thiago Pereira and Tyler Clary came in third and fourth, respectively, but both saw the writing on the wall; with none of the three top swimmers in the world having reached 20 years old, the next generation has taken control of this event.

Clary admitted on Twitter after the race that he felt pleased with the swim after not training at his normal level this year, but he knows that the three teens will keep improving at rapid rates, and he’ll need to keep up. Hagino will only learn from this disappointing experience and narrow his program to just his best events, while Seto and Kalisz will only improve with further racing experience. The 400 IM has become, by a long distance, the youngest event in men’s swimming. Among teenagers, only those three earned medals in men’s events; double fly champion Chad Le Clos is 21, as are Danila Izotov and Radoslaw Kawecki. While mostly veterans dominated the men’s events this week, the final of today’s 400 IM provided a glimpse of where men’s swimming is headed in the not-so-distant future.

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.