The 2011 Paris Open was an absolutely spectacular meet, and even with the absence of the great Michael Phelps, this might have been one of the most exciting and hotly-monitored versions of this meet to date.
The big news of the meet overall, in my opinion, was that Brazil’s Cesar Cielo was finally able to put everything together for the first time this season. Since his return to train at home in Brazil, with the newly-former PRO-16 club, we’ve heard promise about how much yardage Cielo has been putting in, how he’s been lifting weights between meet sessions and still putting up times comparable to where he was last season while training at Auburn. Still, we hadn’t seen him turn that work into huge swims until this meet.
He started things off with the event that people don’t usually associate most with him, the men’s 50 fly, but that’s the race where he came closest to breaking the all-time textile best mark. He took the race in 22.98 (which just missed Roland Schoeman’s 22.96 from the 2005 World Championship meet). Cielo recently confirmed that he would swim this 50 fly, despite it’s conflict with the 400 free relay, in Shanghai, and this swim confirms that he made the right decision. His country-mate Nicholas Santos put up the world’s second-best time of 23.20, but was still beaten relatively easily.
Later on the first day, he completed a bookend of the first day of competition by winning the 100 free in 48.26. That makes him the 2nd-fastest in the world this year. He again easily cleared the field, with France’s Fabien Gilot taking 2nd in 48.85. Gilot is the current standard-bearer for the French 100 freestylers. American, and defending NCAA Champ, Nathan Adrian took 4th in 49.06. He closed in a 25.51, which is a good sign that he’s coming aroudn a little bit though.
Though some would speculate based on these first two swims that Cielo is tapered (in fact it is quite the contrary: he’s only recently lowered his weight-lifting regimine, but is still at full-yardage). He had one more spectacular swim in store later on Day 2.
But as for the rest of day 1, Camille Muffat made some waves in the women’s 200 free with a sizable win in 1:56.14. That’s a couple of tenths off of her time from French Nationals, but most importantly it was a big foreshadowing of her swim from day 2 in the 400 free.
Annie Chandler earned her first major post-graduate victory in the women’s 100 breaststroke. That’s a career-best time for her which moves her to 12th in the world this year. Her summer taper meet is the World University Games, which will make a great transitory meet for her between college and next year’s Olympic Trials.
Trojan Aquatic’s Ous Mellouli, who has been out of competition for almost two months while most of his teammates have been tearing up the West Coast at several meets, won the men’s 400 IM in 4:19.36. This is an event that Mellouli continues to play with, despite insisting that he won’t swim it in London on the nearly-impossible double with the 400 free.
On this day, he had a fairly successful run in that double (albeit with significantly more rest) when he took 2nd in the 400 free in 3:46.15, which is his best time of the season and moves him to 5th in the world rankings. Through about 350 yards of that race, he held off the French youngser Yannick Agnel, who is looking back-on-form after a lung infection. In the last 50 meters of the race, however, Agnel turned on his after-burners and pushed to a 3:45.31 touch.
While for Agnel, that’s about a second-and-a-half off of his best time this year, it shows pretty clearly that his conditioning is strong in this 400 free headed towards Shanghai. This should continue to change the rhetoric out of the French camp about his expected performance. First, we were told that he wouldn’t swim the 400 at all, then it became he would swim it, but he would put his focus purely on the 200 free and the relays. After this swim, I’d expect his people to be rather mute on the issue with the expectation that he could compete for a medal in this race as well.
The men’s 100 backstroke was a torrid affair. In an interesting twist, the final was a huge boon for the swimsuit manufacturer TYR, as their two biggest-name swimmers — 2008 Olympic silver medalist Matt Grevers squared off against recent signee, and 2010 virtual World Champ, Camille Lacourt, in the center of the pool. At the touch, it was Grevers who was victorious in an awesome time of 53.35, which makes him 3rd in the world this year. Lacourt looked much better than he did during the Mare Nostrum, and unlike that meet he closed this race fantastically to take 2nd in 53.52.
There’s a good possibility that Grevers was fairly rested for this meet, as there could have been a bit of pressure from his sponsors to perform well at a high-profile meet this year. Without a World Championship, or even World University Games berth, this was about the closest Grevers would come to a high-profile summer meet for 2011. I’m sure he’ll win at least a couple of titles at this summer’s National Championships, and take a spot on the Pan Am team if he wants it, but Grevers has probably already put himself in Olympic-Trials mode.
In the women’s 50 free, Germany’s Dorothea Brandt won in 24.80, which was a fingernail off of her season-best time. Just behind her was Femke Heemskerk in 25.08, which is her best time of the season. Inge Dekker didn’t look nearly that good in a 3rd-place finish in 25.41.
Also on Day 1, Germany’s Marco Koch underwent his final test to prove that he deserved a spot on the German National team for Shanghai. He had to withdraw early from the German World Championship trials with a back injury prior to the 200 breaststroke final, which is his best event. Germany provisionally named him to their 24-strong roster for Shanghai, with the provision that his performance here would determine whether or not he was deemed fit to compete at the World Championships. He did finish 2nd in this race in 2:13.73, but despite the placing, against a weak field, that time doesn’t seem as though it would be rewarded with a trip to World’s.
His teammate Steffen Deibler is in a similar position, and was on track with his 3rd-place finish in 23.42 in the 50 fly at the beginning of this session. The 100 fly on day 2, however, is most likely what is going to seal his fate.
First things first, let’s wrap up a few teasers from the first day of competition.
Cesar Cielo continued his tear in the men’s 50 free with a win in 21.66, ahead of a stacked field that also included Fred Bousquet (21.78), Andrii Govorov (22.04), and Nathan Adrian (22.26).
Cielo’s turnaround in this event has been in no small part thanks to his recent work at the UK’s Crystal Palace National Sports Centre. One of many complaints that he’s had about his home CBDA Federation is the lack of availability of the new “track start” blocks for him to practice on, which has cost him on his starts in his last few meets. After spending a lot of time working with them at the Crystal Palace, his start was much improved in this race, and that good start led to a great finish in a world-best time this year (he now has the world’s two-fastest times this year). Bousquet’s effort pushes him to 2nd in the world this year just behind Cielo, and Govorov moves to 6th. That makes this, as is typical, the fastest 50 free race of the year so far.
So what about Adrian? Well, he’s a big-time taper swimmer, unlike some of his competitors, but he was really hurt badly by his start here, unlike Cielo. Many see Adrian as a contender to knock of Cielo (and Bousquet) in London, but he’ll really have to get his start fixed up to do so. He hasn’t competed much this summer, and there’s no big meets left in the US, but I’d bet he finds somewhere to compete before leaving for Shanghai, if for no other reason than to not leave this bad start as his last memory before Worlds.
The next loose-end to be tied up was Camille Muffat’s performance in the 400 free, where she bettered her lifetime best by more than two seconds to touch in 4:03.23. Not only is that the second-best swim in the world this year, it’s one of the all-time best and makes her the 8th-fastest performer in history.
The third follow-up was Steffen Deibler in the men’s 100 fly, where he swam a 52.47. That was just off of his time from Germany’s World Championship Trials meet. It’s not obvious what the DSV was looking for out of him, so time will tell whether or not one of German swimming’s biggest names will swim in Shanghai.
In the women’s 100 free, the Netherlands’ Femke Heemskerk posted a career-best time in the women’s 100 free of 53.60. Not only is that her second career-best time of 2011, it regained her the top of the World Rankings ahead of Fran Halsall, who snatched it last week one one-hundreth slower. It’s been a tumultuous week in Dutch swimming, with the announcement that Hinkelien Schreuder is off of the World Championship roster, but it seems to have not fazed Heemskerk in the pool.
Yannick Agnel won the men’s 200 free in 1:45.59, which is almost identical to his season-best, and is the third-fastest swim in the world this year. His countrymate Jeremy Stravius finished a French 1-2 when he took 2nd in 1:47.45, which is easily the best time he’s been in textile and puts him 11th in the world. This French squad is developing some serious depth in this 200 free to the point where they’re almost as dangerous in this relay as they are in the 400.
Russia’s Danila Izotov, who has developed a friendly rivalry with Agnel, took 3rd in 1:48.99.
Inge Dekker posted her 4th sub-26 time in the 50 fly this year to take the event win in 25.89. Only Therese Alshammar has broken that barrier more times this year.
American Kim Vandenberg, who trains in France, won the 200 fly in 2:08.81. That’s the 3rd-best time by an American this year.
Another American win came in the 50 breaststroke, when Annie Chandler displayed more speed (on top of her 100 win) in 30.89. That time is another career-best and moves her to 6th in the world this year.