1. Outside Smoke Rules the Day – Most top swimmers treat semi-final races as a chance to get stretched out and earn a middle lane in finals while saving as much energy as possible. It’s a delicate balance to strike between energy conservation and making sure not to slip out of the top 8. Two swimmers on this day struck that balance perfectly and took medals from lane 8: Paul Biedermann won the men’s 400 free and Josh Schneider (who took it even further into a swim-off to qualify) took bronze in the 50 free.
2. Big Silvers for Young Swimmers – Two swimmers who are still in high school proved themselves to be the second-best in the world in their best events, at least in this week, on Day 3 in Dubai. Missy Franklin from the USA took second in the 200 back, and Kotuku Ngawati from Australia took second in the women’s 100 IM.
3. Who Are These Chinese Women – Has China’s massive population finally created the world’s best swim program? We will have to wait until 2012 to find out for sure, but the hugely unknown Chinese women are looking really strong in this meet and have swept the relays so far. And they are young too. For example, freestyler Yi Tang recently had an amazing showing at the inaugural Youth Olympics. Look out world, here they come…
Women’s 100 free
The women’s 100 free was a Dutch sweep. Ranomi Kromowidjojo, who recently missed a lot of time while battling meningitis, is back in a big way and dominated the field in 51.45 to set a new meet record at 51.45. Her teammate, Frederike Heemskerk, was second in 52.18, which was just barely off of the old championship record (which was first set by Therese Alshammar of all people way back in 2000). The USA’s Natalie Coughlin appeared to show the fatigue of the journey on her face after her 100 back win yesterday, and that effect appeared to rear its head on the back half of the race. She faded from being in contention for the gold all the way to third in 52.25 over the final 50 meters. France’s Camille Muffat, who generally specialize in a little bit longer distances like the 200 and 400, had a great swim to get fourth in 52.41. Dana Vollmer, the other American in the field, was 7th in 52.95.
Women’s 200 backstroke
France’s Alexianne Castel was the clear short-course class of the field coming into the meet, took the women’s 200 backstroke in a time of 2:01.67, which is easily the best time in the world this year. This race held true to the old adage that the third 50 is the most important of the race as she out-battled the young 15-year old Missy Franklin. Though Castel was well behind all of her competitors off of the block (.86 reaction time versus .86 for Franklin), and though Franklin was well clear of the field on the first and last 50’s of the race, Castel dominated the middle portion of the swim. Here’s the comparative splits:
Castel: 29.22 – 30.55 – 30.86 – 31.04
Franklin: 29.01 – 30.88 – 31.42 – 30.70
Yanxin Zhou from China finished third in 2:03.22, and Daryna Zevina from the Ukraine was fourth. Madison White, the other American in the field, finished 7th in 2:06.23.
Women’s 50 fly
Therese Alshammar is, was, and will continue to be the queen of this event for the foreseeable future. She crunched her own world record, which she set in the semi-finals, in a winning time of 24.87. Felicity Galvez, who had one of the faster reaction times (.55) that I’ve ever seen in women’s swimming was just behind in second in 24.90. Those two were really in a race of their own, with the rest of the field fighting for bronze. Jeanette Ottesen, who is the most consistent swimmer of the rest of the field, used a great reaction of .67 to take the last podium spot in 25.24. Ying Lu was 4th in 25.34.
Men’s 400 free
Paul Biedermann silenced many of his critics, including this one, who claimed him as a “suit” swimmer following his lackluster performance in the 200. The 400 free, which has been his better event for the last year-plus–despite the publicity he got for knocking off Phelps in the 200 free in Rome–allowed him to emphatically show his conditioning and continued skill even in textile. Biedermann swam an excellent race from the outside lane. He swam a solid first 100 to put himself right in the thick of things, and then swam a very well-spaced negative split on each of the next three 100’s. Russia’s Nikita Lobintsev, who for most of his career has made his mark internationally as a relay swimmer, surprised a lot of people in taking the silver in this race in 3:37.84. This is his best event short course, and he won a European silver in the 400 in 2009.
Ous Mellouli, swimming his first true “primary” event, took the bronze in 3:38.17. Though a medal is never truly disappointing, based on his earlier swims in events like the 200 free and 400 IM that he does not put most of his training focus on, I was sure he was going to win this race. He still seemed plenty pleased with his swim in the medal ceremony thanks to a huge contingent of Tunisian fans and is definitely racking himself up a huge medal haul. Peter Vanderkaay finished 4th for the Americans in 3:38.44.
Women’s 400 free
Though she no longer draws comparisons as the “phemale Phelps,” Katie Hoff showed that she has clearly not disappeared as a pace-setting force on the women’s swimming scene by taking the 400 free in a new American record of 3:57.07. This was a powerful performance by Hoff who lurked even with runner-up Kyle Palmer through 225 meters. At that point, she shifted into another gear that Palmer couldn’t match and pulled away for the victory. Palmer, who has had a great meet so far, finished second in 3:58.39. The bronze medalist was Federica Pellegrini, who had a good time of 3:59.52. This was a refreshing finish for her after a lackluster leg in the 800 free relay after the Italians were out of medal contention. American Chloe Sutton continued her transition to a dedicated pool swimmer (after a distinguished open water career) with a 4:00.05 for fourth place. The presumption is that Sutton’s walls are not as strong as her main competition in this race, which hurts her more in a short course pool than long course. Still, this shows that she has a ton of potential hurtling towards 2012 and London, as turns are something that is very fixable in 2 years.
Men’s 50 free
The men’s 50 free is swimming’s version of the slam-dunk contest. It’s fast, it’s short, it’s powerful, it’s full of fireworks, and whoever wins it has an extra level of bragging rights. On this day, the man who prior to this summer was the undisputed Fastest Man on Water regained his crown. Brazil’s Cesar Cielo had a thunderous start, a powerful breakout, and led this race wire-to-wire. His winning time of 20.51 broke his meet record from semi-finals. This is one of the more dominating 50 free swims you’ll see at this level of competition, as Cielo’s Team Auburn teammate Fred Bousquet finished second in 20.81. The USA’s Josh Schneider, who has been a bit of a mystery on the international scene since winning the NCAA title in 2010 in the 50 free, needed a swim-off just to earn the right to be the only American in this final. Coming from lane 8, he looked to be in 4th behind Germany’s Steffen Deibler barreling towards the wall, but Deibler had an awful finish and Schneider blew past him on the touch to take the bronze in 20.88. Deibler was 4th in 20.97.
Women’s 100 IM
The USA’s Ariana Kukors won the women’s 100 IM in 58.95, but that was not the story of this race. Kotuku Ngawati, at only 16 years old, took the silver here in 59.27. She is Australia’s next great IM’er, following in the footsteps of Stephanie Rice, though right now she is most competitive in the 100 and 200 meter distances. As she ages and matures, the 400 will come too, but she looks really good for her age. The Netherlands’ Hinkelien Schreuder, who led the race at the half-way mark, finished third in 59.53.
Men’s 200 IM
If Lochte was Popeye, his Spinach would be McNuggets and fries. After tweeting this morning that he hurt pretty bad in prelims, he treated himself to a McDonald’s fix, and this gave him the power he needed to blast his way to another gold, and World Record, in the men’s 200 IM, thus adding to his legend. He was so far ahead of the old World Record, previously held at 1:51.55 by Darian Townsend, that his feet were past the record line. He had the fastest split, bar-none, of anyone in the field on every single 50. The real difference that’s showing for Lochte is his breaststroke. As he’s said in interviews, once he had a leg injury, he developed a new, more efficient, breaststroke that is carrying him to new heights. Lochte appears to be putting out a lot less energy on his breaststroke than everyone around him, yet still manages to widen the gap. His winning time of 1:50.08 will not be surpassed by anyone not named Lochte for a long, long time.
Austria’s Markus Rogan, who described prelims perfectly as “casting for the Ryan Lochte show” finished well back in second at 1:52.9. Tyler Clary, who is having a great first meet since turning pro, was third in 1:53.56.Brazil’s Henrique Rodrigues was positioned to take bronze after the breaststroke, his specialty, but faded hard to the freakishly conditioned Clary on the freestyle leg.
Women’s 400 Medley Relay
The Chinese women continued their Magical Mystery Tour by winning their second relay of the meet in a new Championship Record of 3:48.29. The Chinese swimmers always catch the world off-guard at competitions like this because they seclude themselves so heavily from international competition for most of the season. Based on the names in attendance, nobody would’ve expected China to win this relay, yet here they are shocking us again. The USA was neck-and-neck with the eventual winners throughout the race, and only lost the lead in the last 10 yards of Jessica Hardy’s freestyle leg, where China’s young sprint stud Yi Tang took the lead and carried her amazing late-burst momentum to the wall. The USA ended up second, also under the old meet record, in 3:48.36. Australia, who lurked throughout the race but could never move up the ladder, won the bronze in 3:48.88.