The storylines were thick for the finals on the first day of the 2012 London Olympics, and they didn’t fail to live up to the excitement. We saw 4 Olympic Records go down, and a World Record.
The Americans started off pretty well with 4 medals, but a confident team coming in probably presumed that those 4 would be of brighter colors. If this is an indication of how the rest of the meet is going to go, then it’s going to be a great meet.
Men’s 400 IM Final
There was no three-peat to be had in this men’s 400 IM, the first of multiple attempts from across the field in this meet, as Ryan Lochte put this race in his pocket by about 250 meters. When he turned onto the back-half of the breaststroke leg, he was a full-body ahead of the World Record line, and cruised to a personal (and textile) best of 4:05.18. That is better than the 4:06.22 that Michael Phelps swam at the World Championships in 2007. It’s also the second-fastest swim in history, though Lochte ended well back of the World Record.
He dominated this race by so much that he was able to coast into his last 5 strokes. This swim looked very similar to what he did at the Olympic Trials, only against a much more elite level of competition.
As for Phelps, he didn’t even get a medal. This is only the 2nd time in his career that he has not medaled in an Olympic event, with the last being the 200 fly in 2000 when he was only 16. Phelps was 4th in 4:09.28. If the rest of his meet doesn’t go well, he’ll have to question the decision to swim this race. Even a talent as big as Phelps can’t rejoin this event at the 11th hour and overcome four straight years of work that was put in by Lochte.
Brazil’s Thiago Pereira took silver in 4:08.86, earning his first career Olympic medal (and, in fact, he’d never gotten a World Championship medal in long course before either). He’s been back in Brazil for about a year now, training with the famed PRO16 group, where he’s been putting in massive yardage. That has paid off in his final 100 meters; the running gag of the IM’s had previously been the way Pereira fell apart on that freestyle, but that Pereira is no more. That ties his own Brazilian Record, which puts him as the 5th-best swimmer of all time.
Japanese 17-year old Kosuke Hagino broke his own Japanese and Asian Records for the third time this summer with a 4:08.94; he’s now 6th on the all-time list.
Phelps was 4th, followed by South Africa’s Chad le Clos in 4:12.24, followed by Japan’s Yuya Horihata, Thomas Fraser-Holmes in Australia, and Italy’s Luca Marin.
Women’s 100 Fly Semifinals
The first semi-final of this event was quite slow. Sarah Sjostrom had a good time of 57.27 and China’s Lu Ying came in 2nd with a solid 57.51, but nobody else was even under 58.
But in the second semi, pulled by the Dana Vollmer effect, the times exploded. Vollmer went out in 26.08 – eight-tenths ahead of World Record pace – and finished in 56.36: a tenth off of her Olympic Record from the morning. Vollmer swam just this way at the Olympic Trials – going out as hard as she possibly could. She was two-tenths better in the first 50 meters in the semi’s than even in prelims, and in fact that was easily the best opening 50 (among respectable times) in the history of the event. There are elite 100 freestylers who don’t go out that fast. Expect her to be right around a 26.15 in finals at that turn, and try and hold on for the finish. She still didn’t have a great touch, just like in prelims, but that’s where there’s room for improvement.
Australia’s Alicia Coutts, now not having the weight of a double with the 200 IM like she did at Worlds, had a fantastic swim in 56.85 for 2nd. That’s a best time for her, and moves her to 8th-best all-time. The 3rd-seed goes to Jeanette Ottesen of Denmark in 57.25, snapping her own Danish Record of 57.58 set in a rubber suit in 2009. She’s an outstanding 50 butterflier, but is really breaking-through in this 100 in 2012.
Sjostrom, Claire Donahue (57.42), Ying, Ellen Gandy (57.66), and Ilaria Bianchi (57.79) also final’ed.
That’s Donahue’s best time, and the 4th-fastest in American history. Bianchi broke her own Italian Record, previously a 58.12, to become the first woman from her country under 58 seconds.
Great Britain’s Fran Halsall sat 4th in the world coming into this race, but was only 14th in the semi’s. That doesn’t bode well for the Brit’s chances in either the 400 free or 400 medley relays, where they were hoping for good performances.
Men’s 400 Free Final
As hard as it is to believe, the Chinese men coming into these Olympics had never won an Olympic gold medal in swimming. But as China continues to rise to sporting dominance, that is a record that is no more, as Sun Yang swam a 3:40.14 in the men’s 400 free for a new Olympic Record. Already one of his country’s biggest sports stars, with that win Yang catapulted into a new stratosphere of excellence, and ensured his future as a national hero. (Read more about his record here).
He and South Korea’s Tae-Hwan Park were dead-even headed into the final 100 meters (separated by just .01), but that is a perfect scenario for Yang, the 1500 World Record holder. He came home in a 53.50 to take down the legendary Olympic Record of 3:40.59 from the 2000 Games in Sydney. Even that swim by the great Thorpe was done in a full body suit, not a jammer like Yang wears.
That’s now the third-best swim in history, behind only Ian Thorpe and Paul Biedermann (who missed this final) from non-Olympic races.
As for Park, almost in an act of defiance he had the fastest reaction time in this field (after being DQ’ed in prelims for a false-start, then having the call overturned). He just ran out of gas, and finished in 3:42.06 for silver. He was unable to defend his gold medal, but couldn’t be too unhappy with the time as it was just .02 off of what he won the World Title with in 2011.
American Peter Vanderkaay, having apparently snapped out of his Olympic Trials funk, took bronze in 3:44.69. That will have to give the US serious thoughts about putting him on the 800 free relay, even though he was 9th in the race at Trials. Other than that, this would be Vanderkaay’s only event of the meet.
China’s Yun Hao was fairly distant in 4th with a 3:46.02, though it was an improvement over his prelims time, and the other American Conor Dwyer placed 5th in 3:46.39. That’s just a bit off of his best time. Gergo Kis from Hungary (3:47.03), David Carry from Great Britain (3:48.62), and Ryan Napoleon from Australia (3:49.25) rounded out the final. Napoleon should have been better.
Women’s 400 IM Final
A funny thing happened in the women’s 400 IM final, a funny thing happened. First, China’s Shiwen Ye broke a World Record; but not only did she break it, she smashed it by over a second. A swimmer who had not been better than a 4:33 coming into this meet posted a 4:28.43 to take down Stephanie Rice’s old mark of 4:29.45 that was set at the 2008 Olympics.
But that’s not even the craziest part of Ye’s record. She was 2.5 seconds off of World Record pace after the breaststroke. That means that in 100 meters, she made up 3.5 seconds on the fastest time in history to run down American Elizabeth Beisel and take the gold. The great IM’s ever were closed in 1:01-high’s and 1:02′s. Nobody ever closes in even under a minute. And yet, Ye closed in a 58.68.
For another perspective, Ryan Lochte won the men’s IM closing in 58.65. She was faster in the closing 50 28.93-29.10. That’s stunning, and very similar to the way she tracked down another American, Ariana Kukors, at Worlds last year in the 200 IM, where she had a similar historic close.
As for Beisel, she still took 2nd in 4:31.27. After surprising herself at the US Olympic Trials, that’s only half-a-second improvement. It does move her to 8th on the all-time list, and just .15 behind Katie Hoff’s American Record.
China earned their third medal of the meet when Xuanxu Li took 3rd in 4:32.91. That’s far off of her best time, but does give China two teenagers on the podium in this race.
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu swam a 4:33.49 for 4th; she had a more “Western” style IM, and couldn’t hold on to her positioning as the Chinese swimmers sprinted for home. That’s a disappointing number from her, though the placing isn’t bad, as she will have left her best swim of the year at the Indianapolis Grand Prix in March.
In 5th was Great Britain’s Hannah Miley with a 4:34.17. She split only a 1:18.2 on the breaststroke leg, her strongest part of the IM’s, which cost her a medal. She was a 1:16 earlier this year when she put up such a good time.
American Caitlin Leverenz tied with Rice for 6th in 3:45.49; Leverenz’s breastsstroke was off of her typical as well, and that time is a second slower than she was at Trials. Spain’s Mireia Belmonte-Garcia was 8th in 4:35.62.
Men’s 100 Breaststroke Semifinal
Continuing a trend of crazy-fast Olympic year swims, a Brendan Hansen 59.78 in this 100 breaststroke was the 8th, and last, finalist. That’s 7-tenths faster than what we saw at the 2008 Olympics in this event.
But that’s not the only part of this race that was faster than the 2008 Olympics; South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh broke the Olympic Record with a 58.83. After going out in a very fast 27.47, he closed his way to a new South African Record, which ranks him 5th on the all-time list.
He and Italy’s Fabio Scozzoli (59.44) were two of three favorites coming in, and they rose to the top in this by going 1-2 overall. Close behind, though, is the former Olympic Record holder Kosuke Kitajima in 59.69 for 6th. He’s still perching just off of a medal-worthy time, but if he wants to win and score the three-peat on Sunday, he has much work to do.
Other finalists include Australia’s Brenton Rickard (59.50) ahead of his teammate Christian Sprenger (59.61) for 3rd and 4th, respectively. The Australian breaststrokers haven’t performed this consistently since 2009, when they broke the 100 and 200 World Records respectively.
Lithuania’s Giedrus Titenis (59.66), who last year was way better in the 200, was 5th, and Daniel Gyurta of Hungary was 7th to round out the final.
Japan’s Ryo Tateishi, one of the top in the world coming into this race, broke a minute but was only good for 10th. Eric Shanteau was 11th in 59.96, and Brazil’s Felipe Silva, who was very public about his designs on this World Record, missed out on that chance with a 1:00.08.
Women’s 400 Free Relay
The Australian women flew to victory in this women’s 400 free relay as the famed Dutch foursome couldn’t repeat as Olympic champions, and the Dolphins from down under roared to a 3:33.15, which is a new Olympic Record.
Even stacked up against the fearsome foursome of Inge Dekker, Marleen Veldhuis, Femke Heemskerk, and Ranomi Kromowidjojo, the Aussies, leaning heavily on first-time Olympian Brittany Elmslie, jumped out to a very early lead.
Alicia Coutts flat-started a 53.90 after the 100 fly semi-finals, while Dekker flat-started a 54.67 after scratching that race. Even with an unreal anchor of 51.93 from Kromowidjojo, the Dutch couldn’t make up the ground, and settled for silver in 3:33.79.
The Americans swam well, especially Missy Franklin, leading off in a 53.52 to take back her 17-18 National Age Group Record, but they just didn’t have an explosive leg. That left them with the bronze medal in 3:24.24. Still, it’s hard to question the lineup that the American coaches went with (though many still will). Lia Neal split a 53.6, and Allison Schmitt a 53.5, so still very good swims all around from the Americans.
China was 4th in 3:36.75, with Yi Tang leading off in 53.58. Great Britain’s Fran Halsall was much better on her fly than her freestyle and split a 53.3 to keep them in the hunt. Denmark and Japan rounded out the placers, with the women of Sweden getting disqualified.
A separate post with all relay splits will follow.