The 2012 European Championships kicked off in Debrecen, Hungary on Monday, and despite a lightened field in the pool, the first day showed that there was still going to be an extremely fast, elite racing.
Women’s 400 IM
The women’s meet started off with the 400 IM final, which was loaded with highlights – not the least of which was Katinka Hosszu’s monster winning time of 4:33.76. That’s the third-fastest swim in her career, including behind a 4:32 she went shortly after the NCAA Championships in March.
Like we’ve seen from most of the elite IM’ers this year, she’s still tinkering with her pacing at this point of the season. As compared to March, she went out slower on her butterfly leg in this race (1:02.3 versus 1:01.8) but that didn’t translate into a better closing 100 free. I think we’ll see her attack the fly in London – but with two incredible swims already this season, she’s certainly bounced back from the summer of 2011 where she struggled.
Similarly, Hosszu’s teammate Zsu Jakabos put up her second very fast swim of 2012, and in fact knocked two seconds off of her lifetime best to take 2nd here in 4:35.68. She was actually faster than Hosszu through the first 200 meters, but Hosszu’s ability to put up very fast breaststrokes without sacrificing a ton of speed in the other 300 meters is part of what makes her so good in this event.
Those two are both already qualified for the Olympic Team, and so this seems to be putting both on sort of the end of a cycle. With another 9 weeks to go before London, that’s about right for them.
Czech Republic 18-year old Barbora Zavadova swam a 4:38.07 for 3rd.
Sweden’s Stina Gardell, the heir apparent in the IM’s at USC to Hosszu, broke her own National Record in this race with a 4:38.46 for 4th. She knocked a second off in prelims, and then another second off in finals, meaning she’s broken that mark three times in her last two meets. Despite getting the record first in Mission Viejo, California a month ago, she still hasn’t officially been named to Sweden’s Olympic Team. This time moves her to 17th in the world in 2012, and should ramp-up the pressure to put her at the Olympics.
Men’s 400 Free
In the only other individual final of the session, Germany’s Paul Biedermann took his first ever European Long Course Championship in the 400 free, despite not being rested, in 3:47.84. He enters this meet as the back-to-back champion in the shorter 200, but he had never won this 400 despite being the World Record holder.
The mark is about a tenth faster than his swim from last week’s German Nationals, so it’s a good consistency swim for him. It also shows that he’s putting about the same focus on this meet – not much – as he did last week. Even during the polyurethane era, though, he was never much faster than this time at in-season meets.
Hungary’s Gergo Kis, who is a rising middle-to-distance swimmer, took 2nd in 3:48.09. That time positions him similarly to that of his Hungarian teammates – probably at the end of a cycle, but not a taper. This is only the second long-course meet we’ve seen him in since Worlds though, so it’s a good benchmark for his coaches and fans.
Italy’s Samuel Pizzetti took 3rd in 3:48.66, with British champion Robbie Renwick 4th (3:50.62) and France’s Sebastian Rouault 5th in 3:50.62.
Women’s 400 Free Relay
The German women topped the women’s 400 free relay in 3:37.98, led-off by a 54.21 from Britta Steffen, and perhaps more surprisingly, anchored by a 53.37 from Daniela Schreiber. That’s only two-tenths off of where she was at last year’s World Championships, when this same group (Steffen, Silke Lippok, Lisa Vitting, and Schreiber) won a bronze medal.
The Germans needed that anchor to fight-back against their neighbors the Swedes, who held a lead through three legs but fell back to 2nd in 3:38.40. Gabriella Fagundez had a good anchor for Sweden of 54.62 but not good enough to fight off Schrebier.
Sweden’s middle two legs of Michelle Coleman and Sarah Sjostrom were awesome – with matching 54.0′s. If they had Therese Alshammar on the lead-off leg instead of Ida Marko-Varga (55.66) like they probably will at the Olympics, then they would have knocked off the bronze medalists. That’s a confidence builder for a group that didn’t final at Worlds after swimming alternates in the prelims. Marko-Varga did swim well though for her, and that’s still important for their ability to maybe rest a star or two in London.
Other good splits included Federica Pellegrini (54.29 – rolling) for Italy’s 3rd-place relay; Jakabos’ 54.59 for Hungary in 4th (rolling); and a rolling 54.50 from Greek veteran Nery-Mantey Niangkouara.
Men’s 400 Free Relay
The men’s relay was dominated by France, who were the closest to an A-relay. None of the times were earth-shattering, but given the timing their final tough of 3:13.55 was very good. Amaury Leaveaux led off in 48.59, followed by Alain Bernard (48.29), Fred Bousquet (48.40), and Jeremy Stravius (48.27).
Bousquet won’t be on this relay at the Olympics, but at these championships is pulling some fill-in duty beyond his official 50-fly entry. So far, that’s a good swim for him given the tweak he gave to his ribs in Charlotte.
Italy was 2nd in 3:14.71, including a 47.97 anchor from Filippo Magnini. This too wasn’t a compete Olympic relay for them, but their question mark has been how long the 30-year old Magnini can remain an elite anchor. The answer seems to be “at least one more year”.
The Russians were 3rd in 3:15.13, which is a great swim for a full-blown B-relay. That includes a second leg from Oleg Tikhobaev in 48.01; though it was on a relay start, that time is still a second-and-a-half faster than he’s ever been on a flat start.
- In the women’s 50 fly semi, Estonian Triin Aljand and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom won their respective heats in 26.20 and 26.22, which moves Aljand into 7th in the world this year. Poland’s Anna Dwogiert broke the Polish National Record with a 26.36 for 3rd, with Norway’s Ingvild Snildal close behind in 26.39.
- Milorad Cavic of Serbia topped the 50 fly semi-final in 23.41, ahead of the Ukraine’s Andriy Govorov in 23.43. No great times yet, though Fred Bousquetwas 5th in 23.66 and Spain’s World Record holder Rafa Munoz was 6th in 23.70. Germany’s Steffen Deibler failed to make the final; while Stanford-bound swimmer Tom Kremer, who has grown up in the US, was 16th in 24.20. He’s representing Israel.
- Germany’s Helge Meeuw is still trying to win-back his spot on the German Olympic medley relay in the men’s 100 back. His 53.80 from the semi’s is already two-tenths faster than he was at Nationals, but still off of the 53.50 that Jan-Philip Glania swam last week. Glania didn’t swim in this meet. Israel had three of the top four swims in the prelims, but only Yakov Toumarkin, a 20-year old, was able to make it through to finals, with a 54.26 for the 3rd seed. Greece’s Aristeidis Grigoriadis was in between in 53.89.
- Former Cal Bear Damir Dugonjic was ahead of the field in the 100 breast with a 1:00.64, but a pair of Italians Mattia Pesce (1:00.72) and Fabio Scozzoli (1:00.90), the latter of whom took silver at last year’s World Championships. Imri Ganiel took 4th in 1:01.01 for another great swim from the Israelis, despite the controversy the team is embattled with. Germany’s Hendrik Feldwehr was apparently not recovered enough from his leg injury to go here, as he didn’t even swim prelims. That was his last shot at making the German Olympic Team.
- Alexianne Castel of France took the women’s 200 back top seed in 2:09.03, followed by Germany’s Jenny Mensing in 2:09.49. Daryna Zevina of the Ukraine, the favorite, was 3rd in 2:10.17.