The American contingent scored 4 gold medals, and the maximum possible 9 medals, on the first day of the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Women’s 400 free relay
After breaking the Pan American Games record in prelims at 3:40.85, the American quartet of Madison Kennedy, Liz Pelton, Amanda Kendall, and Erika Erndl came back and nipped it again in 3:40.66 in finals. Kendall had the best split of the group with a 54.62. Though it was off of a rolling start, for Kendall that was about four-tenths faster than she was at Nationals, and her start wasn’t all that fast here. By “true speed” (ignoring reaction time), this swim was .23 seconds faster than her previous career-best, showing that she’s one of the few Americans who has shown up in top-form.
The runner’s up were the Brazilians (3:44.62) with the Canadians in 3rd (3:48.37).
Women’s 100 fly
Prior to the records in the 400 free relay, the American women already had captured an all-time Pan Ams best, thanks to Claire Donahue‘s 100 fly. The former Western Kentucky swimmer (she’s still training with the WKU program in the Hills of North Carolina) took down the all-time mark in prelims at 58.59, which took down the record that Kathleen Hersey set at the last edition of this meet in 2007 at 59.21.
Donahue was a bit off of that time in finals, touching in 58.73, but thanks to a great opening 50 nobody else was ever in serious contention. Brazil’s Daynara de Paula touched 2nd in 59.30, and Elaine Breeden, a former NCAA champion in the event, took 3rd in 59.81.
Also notable in this race was Mexico’s Rita Medrano, who swim collegiately for Texas A&M, touching 5th in 1:00.75. That bested her former college teammate Alia Atkinson, who touched 7th in 1:01.17. For Atkinson, who is better known for her breaststroke, that was a career-best time and a Jamaican National Record. It’s really no surprise that she can turn out a great sprint anything, given her reputation for being one of the strongest swimmers in the NCAA during her time in College Station. Alia and her Janelle Atkinson, a former Florida Gator who has no relation, are responsible for 15 of the 17 long course National Records in Jamaica.
Men’s 400 Free
The men’s event on the day were the middle-distance 400’s, just as with the Olympics, and the Americans started off very well in this 400 free with a 1-2 finish. 2011 World Championship team member Charlie Houchin took the gold in 3:50.95 ahead of Matt Patton (3:51.25). Patton is the Meet Record holder in this event from 2007, and had the top time in prelims, and looked like he was on pace to become the meet’s first repeat-champion; but after the American pair was neck-and-neck through 300 meters, Houchin had just a little bit more left through the finish.
In 3rd was Colombia’s Cristian Quintero in 3:52.51. That breaks the Colombian National Record held by Florida State swimmer Mateo de Angulo, who by the way had a pretty good meet of his own yesterday in NCAA competition.
Men’s 400 IM
Brazil’s Thiago Pereira, after a disappointing World Championship meet, has already turned things around for these Pan American Games. He was the king of the 2007 version of the meet, winning 6 gold medals, and started off 1-for-1 here with a gold in the 400 IM. His winning time of 4:16.68 wasn’t that impressive compared to his past Pan Ams swims, but it was good enough to win by over a full-second. He did his typical “freestyle fade” (he gave up more than 4 seconds to runner-up Connor Dwyer on the freestyle leg of the swim), but had enough of a lead to hold on.
Dwyer touched 2nd in 4:18.22, which was more than two seconds off of his Nationals time. Dwyer is becoming an interesting case for this American team. In collegiate yards swimming, his breaststroke leg was typically his hammer, but now as he gets into long course meters swimming, his breaststroke leg looks more pedestrian (though still in the upper end). It has instead been the freestyle leg that has become lethal for him. This is probably the byproduct of his recognition that his easiest path to the 2012 Olympic squad is through the middle-distance freestyles rather than the IM’s.
The other American in the race, Robert Margalis, touched 3rd in 4:24.88. Behind him was Ecuador’s Esteban Enderica in 4:26.43, which crushes his own National Record by four seconds.
Women’s 400 IM
Julia Smit has not had the easiest transition to international swimming. The swimmer who was one of the most dominant college IM’ers we’ve seen has been on the National Team since graduation, but because of the youth movement in women’s swimming, hasn’t been able to crack any of the international championships rosters in her post-grad career until now. She took advantage of the opportunity to win the 400 IM in 4:46.15.
Joanna Maranhao of Brazil almost snagged the gold away from Smit with an awesome closing 100 free split of 1:03.73. That closing split is World-class, though her overall time of 4:46.33 was not impressive. That almost makes one wonder if she shouldn’t be experimenting with the 400 free as a primary event instead of this 400 IM.
In 3rd-place was the other American, Alyssa Vavra of the Indiana Hoosiers. Her time was 4:48.05.
In 4th was Canada’s Hannah Pierse, who is one of the famous swimming Pierse sisters that includes World Record holder Annamay. Her time was 4:52.95. The 2004 Olympic bronze medalist in this event, Georgina Bardach of Argentina, touched 5th in 4:53.81.
After one day, the Americans are clearly the class of the women’s side, which is pretty typical. The men’s side has been split between the Americans and the Brazilians, which should continue. On Sunday’s day two, we’ll see the men’s 100 free and men’s 100 breaststroke, where the Brazilians should be incredibly strong.