The final day at France’s National championships had three finals that every spectator was looking forward to: the men’s 100 fly and the men’s and women’s 200 free. All three of these events had some serious starpower, with Jérémy Stravius, Rafel Munoz Perez of Spain, Camille Muffat, Yannick Agnel, and William Meynard all battling for gold in their respective events.
The day started off with the men’s 800m free. Damien Joly won in 7:58.99 and was the only swimmer to get under eight minutes. Although it took him 200m to take the lead, he did not give it up for the rest of his swim. Joly was not able to qualify for Barcelona in the 1500m or the 400m, but the 800m was the perfect distance for him as he swam just .07 seconds under the qualification time.
Lotte Friis of Denmark absolutely dominated the women’s 1500, winning by just under 35 seconds in 16:04.72. She even managed to lap two swimmers in lanes 7 and 8. Her time is the second best of 2013, after her own 16:01.41. Aurélie Muller was the first Frenchwoman, finishing in 16:39.07. This was way outside the FINA ‘A’ qualification time of 16:26.36, however.
While the French have a somewhat of a reputation as freestyle specialists, Jeremy Stravius is certainly breaking the mold. Stravius, continuing his unbelievable competition, set the best time of 2013 in 52:04, succeeding in beating 50m fly world record holder Rafael Munoz Perez of Spain to the wall. Perez lead at the turn in a 24:36, but could not hold on for the win. He won the bronze while Mehdy Metella, known for his interesting fur hat that he wears all the time, came second in 52.48. This time is good enough for third best in the world this year and guaranteed him a spot in Barcelona.
Next up, the women’s 400 IM. Evelyn Verraszto of Hungary, looking for another gold to add to her collection got out fast in the first 200 meters, turning in 2:12.63 but could not keep up the pace on breaststroke. She won in 4:38.50, placing her fifth in the world in 2013. Fantine Lesaffre was the first finisher from France but her 4:49.13 did not earn a ticket to Barcelona.
The men’s 200 back was a back and forth race between Eric Ress and Benjamin Stasiulis. Stasiulis led at the 100 mark in 57.55 to Ress’ 57.61. Ress had a fantastic 3rd 50 to take the lead with 50 to go, but died over the last 15m to allow Stasiulis to take the win in 1:59.16. Unfortunately, neither went under the FINA A standard and so missed a spot on the World Championship team.
In the women’s 200m free, Camille Muffat was the easy favorite and with good reason. In the semifinals on Saturday, she had set the fastest time of 2013 in 1:55.69. The real competition here would be for silver, as Charlotte Bonnet and Coralie Balmy were just .03 seconds apart going into the race. As expected, Muffat ran away with the race, setting another best time of 2013 in 1:55.48. Bonnet was able to out-swim Balmy, who went out just a tad too fast, to earn second in 1:57.36, over a second under the qualification time for Barcelona.
With Florent Manaudou scratched from the 50m breaststroke, the door was open for 100m champion Giocomo Perez Dortona to win. Coming up later and clearly ahead of the rest of the field, he powered to a 27.77, which qualifies him for Barcelona and places him 6th in the world this year. Joseph Welstead of Great Britain was second in 28.26.
Unfortunately, the women’s 50 free in France is not a strong or deep as it is for the men. One of the swimmers in the B final time trialed and swam fly and came 5th in her heat. Anna Santamans won the ‘A’ final in a time of 25.37, just .03 over the qualification time for Barcelona. Eszter Dara of Hungary was second in 25.83.
It is fitting that the final individual event of the meet showcase so many of France’s great swimmers such as Jérémy Stravius, Yannick Agnel, and William Meynard. The crowd was really waiting for this event, the men’s 200 free, for the entire evening. This would serve as a rematch between Agnel and Meynard after the upset of the 100 free the other day and just another chance for Stravius to continue his magical streak. The crowd could tell that Agnel was not ready to lose the event he won last year at the London Olympics. Agnel went out very quickly in a 50.57, ahead of Stravius in 51.03. On the second half, Stravius kept on coming back at Agnel. If there had been another 5 meters, perhaps the outcome would have been different. But as it was, Agnel was able to hang on for the win in 1:45.48 ahead of Stravius in 1:45.61. Both of these times qualify for Barcelona and are good enough for 2nd and 3rd in the world in 2013.
The Americans in the 800 free relay have been largely unchallenged since 2003, due in part to the decline of Thorpe and Hackett, the rise of Michael Phelps, and a sudden American focus on this race that gave them unheard of depth. The French, however, led by that threesome above look like they have the makings to win this relay in Barcelona now that Phelps is retired.