World Championships Day Two Prelims Notebook: World Record on Notice

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Commentary by Jeff Commings

BARCELONA, Spain, July 29. WHAT is there to say about Ruta Meilutyte that hasn’t already been said in the past year? This young British-raised Lithuanian has taken the sprint breaststroke events to a new level, and today toyfully played with Jessica Hardy’s world record of 1:04.45 with a 1:04.52 in prelims.

It’s a safe assumption that Meilutyte will break the world record tonight, but it won’t be by a large amount. At the London Olympics last year, her times across three swims — prelims, semifinals and finals — only differed by four tenths of a second. It’s admirable that she is consistent through all three rounds and I hope that if she breaks the world record, she can do it tonight and tomorrow. The crowd would love that.

And I don’t want to leave out the fantastic prelim swim by Hardy. A 1:05.18 in prelims is excellent for her, and bodes well for a chance at a medal, but it will not be easy. Yuliya Efimova and Rikke Moller Pederson will be nipping at her heels.

Katinka Hosszu is becoming my pick for the meet’s outstanding performer. After two events, she has posted two swims that ranked in the top two. She’s going into tonight’s 200 individual medley final as the top seed, and was second after this morning’s 100 backstroke prelims. It’s understandable that she scratched from the 100 back semifinals, with that race coming about 30 minutes before the all-important 200 IM final.

The men’s 200 freestyle prelims were much slower than I anticipated. I expected three or four swims in the 1:45 range, but we got only two swims under 1:47 by Great Britain’s Robbie Renwick and Brazil’s Nicolas Oliveira. The major players are safely through to semifinals, including Americans Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer, who tied for ninth with matching times of 1:47.90. Renwick and Oliveira will need to be faster in semifinals if they want a lane in the final. Expect Lochte, Dwyer, Yannick Agnel and Danila Izotov to push the pace much harder tonight. These guys might still play their pacing games and not show all their energy tonight, but if they are not careful, they will find themselves out of the final. Aaron Peirsol tried to play that game back in 2009, and was ninth after the semifinals of the 100 back, the event in which he had just broken the world record.

Too much wine last night? I thought the French spectators would be back in full force for today’s prelims to cheer for their superstars, but the spattering of French flags was very light this morning. The French filled the park outside the Palau Sant Jordi last night with cheers of celebration after their Fantastic Four won the men’s 400 free relay, and I bet the party lasted through the night while their swimmers slept. Attendance in prelims was light today, about half of the seats used. Tonight will be nearly full, I expect, with France expected to win medals in the men’s 50 butterfly.