Once again, I will be doing my best to keep up with the action in Irvine with live analysis and recaps. The meet will kick off full-speed with the 100 freestyle events.
Women’s 100 free
As billed, Yolane Kukla got off the block fast and with a ton of power, and carried a lead through the turn. The turn, however, is where 5’4 Yolane Kukla is at a huge disadvantage, especially against Natalie Coughlin, who is one of the best off the turns ever. Coughlin brought the race home hard, she had the fastest split on the second 50, which she could not do in yesterday’s 100 backstroke. In the end, experience still wins more often than not. Her winning mark of 53.67 is the third fastest in the world. Kukla faded all the way back to 4th place, but she will surely be a force in the long-term.
Seebhom and Vollmer came on had great second-50’s to tie for second place in 53.96. Vollmer was wickedly slow off the block, and came up about half a body-length behind the field, but recovered nicely for the silver.
Men’s 100 free
Cesar Cielo looked poised to repeat Peirsol’s feat of redemption from night 1, and after about 75 meters had a half-a-body-length lead out in lane 8, where nobody could see him. Adrian, however, always looks strongest on the second half of the 100, and kicked it in at that point to just reel Cielo in stroke by stroke. You could almost visualize Adrian pulling Cielo in. Adrian ended up touching first in 48.15, which is the best time in the world this year. Canada’s Brent Hayden snuck in on Adrian’s wake for second in 48.19. Cielo faded all the way back to finish third in 48.48.
Once again, the swimmer with the fastest second half (Adrian) wins, while the guy with the fastest first half (Cielo) fades back to third. In long course swimming, even in the 100, you have to save something for the end, which is showing up clearly in the 100 freestyles.
Women’s 100 breaststroke
This was probably the biggest challenge Soni has had in a breaststroke event this year. And yet, she still won by .73 seconds. Soni’s final time of 1:04.93 was the fastest in the world this year, and ties for the third fastest in the world EVER, polyurethane or not, and 3 out of the 4 fastest times ever. Leisel Jones gave it a good go on the turn, but between the flags just got smoked. Once again, the swimmer with the fastest backhalf time (Soni) won the race. We’re seeing a bit of a theme develop here. Jones was second in 1:05.66.
Sarah Katsoulis of Australia outtouched Satomi Suzuki of Japan in 1:07.04 by .01 seconds. Katsoulis and Suzuki were never in the race for gold throughout the race, as Soni and Jones were clearly the class of the field.
Men’s 100 breaststroke
Kosuke Kitajima added over 3 tenths of a second from his prelims swim. Who can blame him though, as his prelims time was the fastest ever in textile. Kitajima (59.35) fell short of breaking the 59-second barrier, as many had hoped. He still emerges from the meet as the fastest in the world. Now living and training in LA, Kitajima seems to be absorbing the California lifestyle that has allowed swimmers like Natalie Coughlin and Jason Lezak to remain elite well past where standard thought puts their primes. Kitajima will turn 30 shortly after the London Olympics, but he is still clearly a favorite in both breaststroke events, where he will be shooting to become only the third swimmer ever to 3-peat at an Olympics.
The second through fifth place finishers were all within 1 tenth of each other, but Christian Sprenger (1:00.18) upstaged his more popular teammate Brenton Rickard (5th) for the silver. Similarly, Mark Gangloff (1:00.24) outshone Eric Shanteau (6th) for the bronze.
Women’s 400 IM
Elizabeth Beisel put together a complete 400 IM start to finish, although her time wasn’t out of this world–.65 seconds off of her prelim time, which made her 4th fastest in the world. She withstood an outstanding butterfly leg from silver medalist Samantha Hamill and an outstanding breaststroke leg from bronze medalist Caitlin Leverenz to win easily by over 3 seconds. Beisel took advantage of her specialty-backstroke, and a closing freestyle leg to go a solid season-best of 3:34.69. Hamill’s second-place time was 3:37.84, and Leverenz went 3:38.03.
This win was the first international gold for the 18-year old (her birthday was yesterday) Beisel, who has a huge future ahead of her.
Men’s 400 IM
Ryan Lochte lead this race from wall-to-wall, including taking out the butterfly leg ahead of World Record pace. Whereas Tyler Clary had the lead through the first 250-meters in prelims (which is pretty typical), Lochte had an almost 2 second lead at the same point in finals. Lochte appeared to back-off ever so slightly at the end of the race, perhaps in preperation for the 800 free relay later on in the session or a large number of other races he has yet to swim this weekend. Still, his winning time–even after putting the breaks on–Lochte cut another 1.18 seconds off of his prelims time to finish in 1:07.59. This makes him over a second-and-a-half faster than the next best swimmer in this event this year, which was represented by Clary’s prelim time.
In finals, with a second-place finish secured, Clary also seemed to back off a bit to finish in 4:09.55, slower than his prelims time. Clary has even more potential races left to come than Lochte. Thiago Pereira of Brazil, who was 4th in this event at World’s in 2009, won the bronze here in 4:12.09.
Women’s 50 back
This race was a perfect example of why USA-Swimming needs to wake and pay closer attention to 50-meter races: because they’re crazy exciting. Sophie Eddington of Australia won in 27.83, as the only swimmer in the field under 28 seconds. This shaves .12 off of her time from Australian Nationals, and places her 4th fastest in the world this year. Aya Terakawa, who also silvered in the 100 back, took second in 28.04. Third-place was the real nail-biter, as there was an incredible 3-way tie. I have personally never seen that before, especially not at this level. Emily Thomas of New Zealand, Fabiola Molina of Brazil, and 16-year-old Rachel Bootsma of the US all tied at 28.44 for the bronze. Equally astonishingly, the three has the exact same reaction time (.61 seconds) off of the block. That’s as close as a race gets.
Even creepier, Grace Loh of Australia finished .01 back (28.45) and was .01 slower off of the block (.62). What an incredibly exciting race.
Men’s 50 back
Junya Koga had a perfect start (.51 reaction) and a perfect finish to steal a gold medal out of lane 2 in the men’s 50 backstroke. His final time of 24.86 tied his best mark of the season, and was well under his prelim time. Australia’s Ashley Delaney took the silver in 24.98. The two Americans, Nick Thoman and David Plummer, were well off of their prelims times. Thoman finished third in 25.02. His prelims time would have won finals. Plummer, in 4th, was 25.09. His prelims time would’ve scored second in the finals.
Women’s 800 free relay
The American women had more of a challenge through the first 3 legs of the race than anybody would have expected, as headed into Allison Schmitt’s anchor leg they were actually at a .13 second deficit. But Schmitt, who is having an unbelievable meet, didn’t let that last long. She anchored the USA home in a split of 1:56.57 to take the win by over a second-and-a-half. The Americans (7:51.21) were well off the time that I (and many) expected from them, as all 4 swimmers were well off of their times from the individual swims yesterday, even with the advantage of a relay start. That still gives them the best time in the world this year by over a second.
The second-place Australians were remarkably consistent in their swims, with all four swimmers falling within 3 tenths of each other. Their final time was 7:52.64. The Canadians looked as though they might challenge for the silver medal, but their front-loaded relay until Samantha Cheverton fell back on the anchor. They finished third in 7:54.32.
Men’s 800 free relay
When you can begin and end an 800 meter relay with probably the 2-best 200 freestylers in the world right now, nobody else has a chance. When you throw in two 1:46 middles in between, it should be illegal. The Americans threw up the 4 fastest splits of the whole race to finish in 7:03.84, which won the race by over 7 seconds. Ryan Lochte anchored with a 1:45.27 despite having swum a world-best time in the 400 IM just over an hour earlier. This was also the world’s best time this year by almost 3 seconds.
By the time the second place Japanese finished, Lochte had already removed his cap and goggles and was receiving congratulations from his teammates on deck. Despite, the race for the silver ended up being very exciting. Japan’s Sho Uchida made up almost a second on Australia’s Leith Brodie to grab second for the Japanese in 7:11.01. The Australian’s, who front-loaded their relay, were just behind in 7:11.05.
This completes the 2nd day of the 2010 Pan Pac Championships. We learned that Phelps still isn’t in the shape he needs to be and that the future of Elizabeth Beisel that we have long been promised is now the present of Elizabeth Beisel. Lochte is even more of a monster than we thought, and may challenge Phelps as the swimmer of the 2012 London Olympics. Rebecca Soni is as good as we thought she was, and Nathan Adrian has closed the gap with Cesar Cielo. Kitajima and Coughlin are proving to be ageless, thanks perhaps to the California lifestyle. And the USA, who won 7 out of the 10 gold medals, are still the best swimming nation in the world.