The time is here. After a long four-year wait, swimming has begun in London at the 2012 London Olympics.
Day 1 was loaded with upsets and heartbreak, and bracket-busters galore. In the men’s 400 free alone, two of the three medalists from last year’s World Championships failed to even final. Even one is rare, but three is massive.
10:07 AM – Former NCAA Champion Bradley Ally from Barbados, currently training with Club Wolverine in Ann Arbor, Michigan, strikes first blood with a 4:21.32 to win heat 1. Iceland’s Anton McKee 2nd in a 4:25.
10:16 AM – Luxembourg’s Ralph Stachiotti strikes first blood to take down his own National Record with a 4:17.20. That puts him 2nd overall behind Belgium’s Ward Bauwens in 4:16.71.
10:21 AM – And a big one goes down! 17-year old Kosuke Hagino from Japan wins the first circle-seeded heat in 4:10.01, breaking his own Japanese National Record.
Men’s 400 IM
Four years later, after having sworn off the event for good, Michael Phelps was back to begin the events of the swimming at the 2012 London Olympic Games with a 4:13.33 to win the 2nd-to-last heat of this men’s 400 IM. That won’t leave him center-stage, but this swim was just incredibly relaxed. On his backstroke, his face showed more an effort to keep the water out of his mouth than any attempt at exerted breathing.
His breaststroke was even more relaxed, and coming off of the final turn, underwater cameras showed Phelps taking a big hard look at his competitor Laszlo Cseh of Hungary, and just pulling away to win the heat. Though with the relaxed pace, Phelps’ 2:13.33 to Cseh’s 2:13.40 seemed a bit insignificant, those .07 seconds would end up being massive. That’s because Phelps just barely made it into the final, and Cseh, the defending Olympic silver medalist, was left out as 9th overall.
That leaves the two-time defending Olympic champion in lane 8, and facing a wall coming off of the final turn in the evening.
This is the first stunning development of the swimming events at these Games, as the pace to final was more than three seconds better than what we saw at the World Championships last year.
Moving into the role of the favorite for that bronze (or better) is Japanese 17-year old Kosuke Hagino. He swam a 4:10.01 in the prelims to take the top overall seed and break his own Asian Record. The previous mark was held by him, from 2011, at 4:10.26. We might have just seen the emergence of the next great Japanese swimmer.
He’ll have to contend with a much more forceful Phelps, though, as well as a more stepped-up Ryan Lochte, who will be the 4th seed with a 4:12.35. He looked very powerful on his backstroke, but was run down by South Africa’s young Chad le Clos in the final 50 meters.
Brazil’s Thiago Pereira was also safely through in a 4:12.39, but he can’t be encouraged by his last 100 meters. Closing on the freestyle has always been his problem, and after being really fast through the 300, he faded hard. We’ll have to wait until the evening to see if that was designed for energy conservation.
The top 8 will be Hagino, Le Clos, Lochte, Thiago Pereira (Brazil), Thomas Fraser-Holmes (Australia), Luca Marin (Italy), Yuya Horihata (Japan), and Michael Phelps.
10:47 AM – Switzerland’s Danielle Villaris is the first to crack a minute in the women’s 400 IM, with a 59.42. That ties Spain’s Judit Ignacio Sorribes to win heat 2. A new Swiss National Record.
Women’s 100 Fly
American Dana Vollmer has wasted no time in getting her burners out early in this 100 fly. She took the top seed in prelims with a 56.25, which is a new American and Olympic Record. The old American mark belonged to her from US Trials, and the Olympic Record was a 56.61 belonging to the legendary Inge de Bruijn from the Netherlands from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. (See more about the records here).
While these big records are always exciting, this is again an unnecessary early burn of energy for Vollmer. Greece’s Kristel Vourna was the 16th qualifier in 58.74, two-and-a-half seconds behind Vollmer. Had the American put in a bit of cruise-control, she could have still put in a 57-low and had a good lane in finals. With such a deep field, she can’t afford to be off of her best in the finals if she wants to take home the gold, but with 16 advancing she could have saved some energy. Still, she was able to slow up on the last 2-3 strokes, so there may still be something left.
Behind her, China’s Lu Ying looked very strong in 57.17 for the 2nd overall seed. She had a good back-half 50 of 30.52; but not quite as good as Australia’s Alicia Coutts (57.36) and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom (57.45) for the 3rd and 4th seeds overall.
There is a big grouping of swimmers at 57′s, so the rest of the field will have to let Vollmer pull them along in the semi’s this evening to some concentrated swims. Jeanette Ottesen of Denmark was the 5th seed in 57.64; all of a sudden, the Danish medley relay starts to look very strong without anything resembling a weak leg. That also makes Ottesen a big medal contender in the 100 free, her better race.
American Claire Donahue also was safely through to the evening with a 58.06 for the 7th seed. The British pair of Ellen Gandy and Fran Halsall also qualified in 58.2 and 58.3′s. Not a great start for the Brits, after Joe Roebuck struggled in the men’s 400 IM.
Other notable finalists include Singapore’s Tao Li, a finalist from Beijing, in 58.34, and Sweden’s Martina Granstrom in 58.70.
Men’s 400 Free
Update: South Korea’s appeal of the 400 free DQ of Tae Hwan Park has been overturned. That means Canada’s Ryan Cochrane is out of the final. The below recap was written before the decision was made. Read more about the appeal here.
Pandemonium broke out in this men’s 400 free. As if Cseh’s miss earlier in the 400 IM weren’t shocking enough, defending 400 free champion Tae-Hwan Park of South Korea was disqualified in this men’s 400 free for a false start (one of the few ways to get the boot in a freestyle race). Park was DQ’ed for the same offense in this race in 2004. So stunned were his competitors that upon finishing the following heat, American Peter Vanderkaay looked at his counterpart Sun Yang of China and asked him “what happened?”.
Those two now become the big favorites, after more shocking upsets when Germany’s Paul Biedermann, the bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships, failed to final as well. Biedermann swam a 3:48.50 for 12th, leaving him more than a second away from the final.
Meanwhile, Yang and Vanderkaay qualified as the top two spots in 3:45.07 and 3:45.80, respectively. For both men, this was a bit slower than they were in prelims of the World Championships, but still easily got the job done.
Those two final’ing was not a big surprise. The other American, Conor Dwyer, placing 3rd was a huge shock. He swam a lifetime best of 3:46.24, which will put him opposite Vanderkaay, his Gator Swim Club training partner, in lane 3 for the final.
Hungary’s Gergo Kis was 4th in 3:46.77. Britain’s David Carry also made the final with a 3:47.25 for 7th with outstanding underwaters; not the Brit many expected to move through as Robbie Renwick was left out in 10th. Canadian Ryan Cochrane, who should have a better go in the 1500, just snuck into the final in 8th.
Update: NBC is reporting the officials might have gotten the wrong lane on the Park DQ.
Women’s 400 IM
The United States’ Elizabeth Beisel has in the least shown that she’s holding her taper from Trials just 4 weeks ago, as she took the top seed in the womens’ 400 IM in 4:31.68. But she is by no means a sure thing, as China’s Ye Shiwen swam a lifetime best of 4:31.72 for the 2nd seed. Shiwen is best known for her exploits in the 200 IM, where she is the defending World Champion. She didn’t show quite the same closing kick in this race that she’s famous for in the shorter IM, however the big time improvement shows that her other strokes have vastly improved. She’s very dangerous in the 200 now as well.
NCAA Champion, and the fastest all-time in yards, Katinka Hosszu of Hungary is the 3rd seed in 4:33.77, with a strong breaststroke leg carrying her to a good, though not season-best, time.
Outside of the top two, not many swam up to their best headed into the final; however, it was still a faster prelim than we saw at Worlds, so not too much disappointment either. The other Chinese qualifier, Li Xuanxu, also made the final safely as the 4th seed in 4:34.28. Spain’s Mireia-Belmonte-Garcia atoned for failing to make a single final at Worlds with a 4:34.70.
Britain’s Hannah Miley, Australia’s Stephanie Rice, and the United States’ Caitlin Leverenz were all safely into the final as well, though all three were nearly trapped by a slow 4th heat. Rice didn’t look good on the fly leg at all, which is concerning as that’s the stroke that would seem most affected by her recurring shoulder ailments.
Men’s 100 Breaststroke
The Olympics continued to show stepped-up standards to advance from early rounds. In this race, there were a full 12 swimmers who broke a minute, as compared to only 5 in the prelims of the 2011 World Championships. As many lows as there were in this first prelims session, this 100 breaststroke was just as high. The times included a top-seeded 59.62 from Australia’s Christian Sprenger. He is the World Record holder in the 200, but gave that event up this year to focus on this 100, thus far to big results.
Another 200 specialist, Daniel Gyurta, did very well in this race as well, as he took the 3rd seed in 59.76. That crushes his own Hungarian Record by half-a-second.
New Zealand’s Gareth Kean in with a 59.78 (another National Record). He looks to have continued his momentum from last year’s World Championships, where the whole New Zealand team swam extremely well. Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa was comfortable in a 59.7 as well, as was world leader Kosuke Kitajima in 59.63 for the 2nd seed overall.
Canada’s Scott Dickens became the first Canadian man to break a minute with a 59.85, and Brazil’s Felipe Silva barely snuck in as the 16th seed in 1:00.38. Both of the German swimmers missed the semi’s, as did three-time NCAA champion Damir Dugonjic from Slovenia.
Women’s 400 Free Relay
The top three in this women’s 400 free relay was not a surprise, with Australia (3:36.34), the United States (3:36.53), and the Netherlands (3:37.76) grabbing the three middle lanes for Saturday night’s final. The order, perhaps, might have been a bit upended, though.
There were some great splits in this relay. The American coaches, for their part, are going to have a very tough decision deciding who will go through to join Jessica Hardy and Missy Franklin in the final.
Lia Neal – 54.1
Amanda Weir – 54.4
Natalie Coughlin – 53.9
Allison Schmitt – 54.1
It would seem that Neal, going a lifetime best on a leadoff swim without the benefit of a relay start, would be put through. But the choice between Coughlin (a swimming legend who has a knack for getting Olympic medals) and Schmitt (who has tremendous upside in this race after just discovering her 100 free talents in the last year) is not so easy. Dana Vollmer can’t be counted out with how well she’s swimming, even though she wasn’t in the top 6 at the Olympic Trials.
The Dutch, despite being 3rd, may have made themselves even bigger favorites to defend their gold medal. Inge Dekker, who was purported to be the “weak” leg of the finals relay, split a 53.5 in the morning heat. When Hinkelien Shcreuder is subbed out in favor of the world’s best sprinter, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, this team is lethal.
Australia got a similarly fast split from teenager Brittany Elmslie, who split a 53.4 in her Olympic debut. She is totally new to the international scene, but has already declared that she thinks she belongs. Libby Trickett had a good anchor for the Aussies in a 54.1 of her own.
Denmark, China, and Japan were also safely through, with Sweden and Great Britain tying for 7th. For Sweden, that’s a great effort with Therese Alshammar scratching the relay; their star Sarah Sjostrom led off in a 54.3.
The Brits took a gamble leaving Fran Halsall off of this relay for prelims, but a 54.6 from Caitlin McClatchey kept them safe. Germany did not take the same gamble, leaving Britta Steffen on their prelims relay, but her 54.4 leadoff wasn’t enough to put them in the finals.