The most anticipated showdown between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps in years will finally have a decision by the end of the session Thursday evening, as we will see the two square off in the men’s 200 IM. We’ll also see Missy Franklin take on another tough double with the 100 free final and the 200 back semi-final, though fortunately she won’t have to expend much energy to get through that backstroke race.
Rebecca Soni will also be shooting to follow-up her semi-final World Record in the semi-finals of the 200 breaststroke with a repeat of her gold medal.
The other final will be the women’s 100 free, where the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo seems to be way in front of the rest of the field.
Men’s 50 Free – Semifinal
In another fantastic round of men’s 50 freestyles, the top three seeds all came from the 1st semi-final, but not by much. Cesar Cielo and Cullen Jones tied for the top seed in 21.54, followed by a 21.62 from the other American Anthony Ervin.
The two Americans continue to stun with what they’ve accomplished this year, with many counting both out at Trials even. The pair have already been more-than-successful, but that’s not to say that either will be satisfied yet. Cielo looks awfully good, though, and will be tough to beat if he breaks out a spectacular swim in the final.
There were a full 10 swimmers in these semi’s under 22 seconds, as compared to the 6 we saw in the prelims. Bruno Fratus, the other Brazilian, will be the 4th seed in 21.63 – though he was great in semi’s of the 50 at Worlds last year before missing the podium in finals.
George Bovell of Trinidad & Tobago was 5th in 21.77, and France’s Florent Manaudou was 6th in 21.80.
Eamon Sullivan from Australia was 7th in 21.88, while his teammate James Magnussen missed out on the final in 22.00. The heat on Magnussen is going to increase a little bit as a result of that swim, but I don’t think it’s as warranted here as it would be in the 100. He’s never called himself a 50 freestyler, and until the last 3 months or so he was a 100-200 guy. Sullivan tied with South Africa’s Roland Schoeman at that mark.
Women’s 200 Breaststroke – Final
Not only did American Rebecca Soni dip under the 2:20.00 World Record she set in the semifinals of this race, she blew through it to break a historical barrier and swim a 2:19.59. That makes her the first swimmer, stunningly, of this entire meet to repeat an individual gold medal – a shocking fact three-fourth of the way through this meet.
Soni still didn’t go out that fast – opening in a 1:08.10. It seemed as though her only chance at breaking the 2:20 barrier was a 1:07 open, but she proved that theory wrong.
As great as that swim was, an equally-huge story was just how fast this race was as a whole. After Soni has been the only swimmer the last two years to show any kind of adeptness to this 200, it took better than a 2:21 to even medal in this swim. Japan’s Satomi Suzuki broke their bronze-medal streak by scoring Japan’s first silver medal, and tying an Asian Record, in 2:07.72, while Yuliya Efimova finally shone with a 2:20.92 for a new European Record and bronze medal.
That surely has to be frustrating for Rikke Moeller-Pedersen, who despite swimming the 9th-best time ever of 2:21.65 will miss the podium. Keep in mind that coming into this meet, the 2:20 textile club had only two members: Soni and Australian Leisel Jones.
Canada’s Martha McCabe continued the record-breaking haul with a 2:21.65, followed by American Micah Lawrence (2:23.27), Suzaan van Biljon (2:23.72), and Australian Sally Foster (2:26.00). Each of the top 4 swimmers in this final broke National Records, at least, and van Biljon took hers down in the semi-finals. The only three who didn’t (Canada, Australia, and United States number two) are blockaded by former or current World Records in the books. These swimmers are really pushing the limits of the stroke.
Men’s 200 Backstroke – Final
This will be remembered as the meet of the unpredictable. Another giant was slain, as Tyler Clary took the title in the men’s 200 backstroke in 1:53.41. That’s a new Olympic Record, taking down the 1:53.94 set by Ryan Lochte in 2008. That also puts him 4th on the all-time lists, as Americans now hold 5 of those top 6 spots.
Though that would inevitably change later in the meet in the 200 IM, at this point Tyler Clary would have as many gold medals as Phelps and Lochte combined, which is a huge shock even with this upset. Lochte was a big favorite in this race, but ended up taking just bronze in 1:53.94 – a full second slower than what he swam to win the World Championship in 2011. It’s not obvious where exactly his race went wrong, but his body-position looked off and less smooth than normal.
At the end of the day, coming off of his famous last wall, Lochte couldn’t put the competition away like he normally does. He was passed by even Japan’s Ryosuke Irie for that country’s second-straight silver medal with a 1:53.78.
This still keeps a streak of 5-straight titles for the Americans in this event. The American men, in fact, have not lost a backstroke event since the 1992 Olympics.
There was a big jump after the medalists, with Poland’s Radoslaw Kawecki and China’s Zhang Fenglin tying for 4th in 1:55.59.
Women’s 200 Backstroke – Semifinal
It won’t be a huge surprise on further thought, but superficially will be an upset, as American Elizabeth Beisel took the top seed in the women’s 200 back in 2:06.18: a personal best time for her that makes her 6th of all-time. Missy Franklin in the opposite heat is the 2nd seed in 2:06.84, which is a good time for her with still a 100 free to come later on in the session.
It’s good to see that Beisel is stepping up to challenge the reigning World Champion in a race where the world has been overall disappointing for the last few years in the lack of progress. It’s especially good given that many of the young swimmers who many would have thought capable to get down into a 2:05 or so didn’t even move on to the final. That includes half of the top-6 from Shanghai.
The biggest name among them not to advance is Worlds bronze medalist Sharon van Rouwendaal from the Netherlands with a 2:09.50 to leave her in 11th. The Ukraine’s Daryna Zevina, who hasn’t had a very good 2012 season anyway, was also out in a 2:09.70.
The top seed behind the Americans is Meagan Nay from Australia in 2:07.42.
Russia’s Anastasia Zueva, trying to fight back after disappointment in the 100, was 4th in the semi’s overall in 2:07.88, followed by France’s Alexianne Castel (2:08.24), two-time defending champ Kirsty Coventry (2:08.32), Lizzie Simmonds from the home country, and Canadian teenager Sinead Russell.
Men’s 200 IM – Final
Exactly 30 minutes and 5 seconds after the wrap of the 200 backstroke, Ryan Lochte stepped up to the blocks again to race another of the world’s best swimmers, Michael Phelps, in the men’s 200 IM. After the 200 back earlier in the meet, I think this race went about to par with the new expectations, as Phelps won the race in 1:54.27. That’s still a tenth slower than he was at the World Championships last year, but he got out to a solid lead early in this race – 6-tenths at the halfway mark.
But this time, Lochte wasn’t able to gain any ground on Phelps on the breaststroke leg. At that point, all that was left was for Phelps to finish, and that he did in a 1:54.27 for his 16th Olympic gold medal and 20th overall: both records.
Lochte was just behind in 1:54.90, with Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh scoring bronze in 1:56.22. This is Cseh’s 6th Olympic medal, showing a good ability to bounceback after failing to make finals in his other races of this meet. In those 6 medals, Cseh has never taken a gold. In fact, each of those races were won by Phelps, and in all 6 he placed behind only Americans.
Brazil’s Thiago Pereira was 4th in 1:56.74, repeating his finish (behind the same three swimmers) as in 2008. There could be a huge shakeup in this lineup in Rio, as three out of these top four have hinted that they might retire after these Games (though only Phelps has really been firm about it).
Kosuke Hagino was not quite as good as he was in the 400 IM, but did well for 5th in 1:57.36; at only 17, he should be able to improve this shorter distance as he matures and gets stronger. His teammate Ken Takakuwa was 6th in 1:58.53.
Britain’s James Goddard and Germany’s Markus Deibler rounded out the standings in the final.
Women’s 100 Free – Finals
This was Ranomi Kromowidjojo’s race-to-lose, and she showed the confidence not to panic when Belarusian defending World Champion Aleksandra Herasimenia took this race out in a 25.2. Kromowidjojo was half-a-second behind in 2nd in that race in 4th, despite typically being the one who pushes the pace.
But the 25.7 opening split for her is exactly where she wanted to be, and so often we hear swimmers and coaches talk about “swimming my race,” and that’s exactly what she did. She almost exactly matched her semi-finals time, but was a hair better in 53.00. That’s a new Olympic Record, breaking her 53.05 from the evening session on Wednesday.
Herasimenia still held on pretty well in 53.38 for silver, followed by China’s Yi Tang in 53.44 for bronze. That’s the first time the Chinese have won a sprint freestyle medal, for either men or women, in this millenium.
Australia’s Melanie Schlanger‘s luck ran out; after two great rounds, she added a tenth from semi’s, which was just enough to keep her off of the medal stand. She was 4th in 53.47. American Missy Franklin, swimming her second individual double of the meet, wasn’t quite as successful this round as she was 5th in 53.64.
Fran Halsall, Jeanette Ottesen, and the other American Jessica Hardy rounded out the finals.
Men’s 100 Fly – Semifinal
Despite coming on a quick turnaround from the 200 IM medal stand, Michael Phelps had no trouble rocking to the top seed in this men’s 100 fly with a 50.86. Looking fresh, and swimming with the same confidence we saw in the 200 IM, he was out comfortably and blew away his heat on the back-half.
Behind him in 2nd, however, was South Africa’s Chad le Clos in 51.42. Le Clos is the man who knocked off Phelps in the 200 fly earlier in this meet, and now will try and do the same here (though that seems like a tall task).
American Tyler McGill took 3rd in 51.61, and Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, a long-time Phelps rival, will be 4th in 51.66
The Netherlands’ Joeri Verlinden broke his own National Record with a 51.66 for the 5th seed, followed by Germany’s Steffen Deibler (51.76), Poland’s Konrad Czerniak (51.78), and Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin (51.85).
Australia’s Chris Wright, who’d had such a great season in this 100 fly, missed the final 11th in 52.11. Jason Dunford of Kenya was behind him in 12th in 52.16.