Day 2 was just as exciting as the day before, and upped the ante with two World Records. I’ll get into specific events later, but for now, here’s what I saw:
1. The American Men Still Aren’t There – The lesser-accomplished Americans, like Garrett Weber-Gale and Ricky Berens, are swimming well. On the contrary, however, aside from Ryan Lochte’s domination, the rest of Team USA is not having nearly the same level of success. On day 2, Nathan Adrian failed to final in the 50 free, his best event, and Mike Alexandrov failed to medal in the 100 breaststroke that he was favored to win.
2. The American Women Are Looking Strong – The American women, on the other hand, picked up two event wins (Rebecca Soni in the 50 breaststroke and Natalie Coughlin in the 100 backstroke), and are looking very strong as the meet goes on. They’re in a good position to add more medals in day 3 in the 100 free and 100 IM races.
3. Post-Suit Comebacks – Some swimmers who have not had much success since the rubber suits were banned, got back to their form on day 2 in Dubai. This includes South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh and Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin.
Men’s 400 IM
Yesterday, the Chinese women set the first World Record of 2010, in the women’s 800 free relay. Today, Ryan Lochte set the first individual record of 2010 in the men’s 400 IM. In fact, he crushed that mark: previously held by Leszlo Cseh at 3:57.27. Lochte’s winning mark was 3:55.50. As a sign of how much Lochte has matured and progressed in his swimming over the last year, he had the fastest breaststroke split in the field (1:07.41) by several tenths, and if nobody can overtake Lochte after the breaststroke leg, they certainly aren’t going to catch him on the freestyle.
Tyler Clary was the only swimmer to really push Lochte, as he was within half-a-second through 300 meters. On the final leg, the freestyle, Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli showed his superior endurance and closed hard to overtake the American for the silver. Mellouli’s final 50 of 26.76 was second-fastest in the field, just behind Lochte, and was almost a second faster than everyone else (including Clary). The final marks for the medalists were Mellouli in 3:57.40 and Clary in 3:57.56. Both men were close to the old World Record. Hungary’s David Verraszto was in 4th, and Laszlo Cseh faded all the way to 6th after being in the hunt for gold through 150 meters.
Women’s 50 breaststroke
This just isn’t fair. We already know that Rebecca Soni is far and away the best 100-200 breaststroke in the world. But now she’s going to start winning the 50, especially in short course, and really demoralize her competitors hurtling towards 2012. She and Leiston Pickett matched each other almost identically, from their reaction time off of the block all the way through the race, but it was Soni’s low, quick stroke that allowed her the better touch at the wall. Her winning time was 29.83, with Pickett taking silver in 29.84. China’s Jin Zhao, who was the top overall seed after semi’s, finished third in 22.90.
The two big names that can challenge Soni in the 50 are Leisel Jones from Australia and Jessica Hardy from the USA, and neither of them were in this race. Hopefully in Shanghai, these two get back in the 50 meter mix and we see some even more outstanding racing.
Men’s 100 backstroke
In the long course season, Camille LaCourt from France took a run at some backstroke world records. In short course, nobody is as good as Russia’s Stanislav Donets, as this time it was his turn to run for an all-time best, which Nick Thoman set at the last moments of the 2009 supersuit era. In the end, Donets was just short in 49.04 (the mark was 48.94), but didn’t quite push his walls as far as he might have been able to.
His fantastic swim was overshadowed by LaCourt’s drama for silver. He finished well back of Donets in 49.80, but immediately following the race was DQ’ed for a violation of the 15-meter underwater mark. The French federation protested the DQ, but no official announcement was made. To add to the confusion, despite LaCourt standing behind the medal stand, Nick Thoman (who touched 4th) was announced as the bronze medalist.
Upon review, the meet officials decided that they had misidentified the swimmer who stayed under too long, and it was in fact Ryosuke Irie from Japan, who finished 5th. They did not retroactively disqualify Irie, but did restore LaCourt to the second position.
After all of the dust settled, LaCourt was second, and Spain’s Aschwin Wildeboer was third in 50.04. Thoman was 4th in 50.38.
Women’s 100 backstroke
Why? Oh why? Why would I ever pick against Natalie Coughlin, especially in the 100 backstroke, and especially in short course? This race seemed to be a duel between the two Chinese swimmers, Chang Gao and Jing Zhao, and Coughlin waited until the very last moment to make her move. In fact, she waited until quite exactly the 90 meter mark. All of the attention was focused on the two swimmers in the middle of the pool, until Coughlin burst out of her streamline in the lead. From there, it was a fury to the finish, and Coughlin finished first in 56.08. Zhao took second in 56.18, and Gao, who seemed to be a lock after semis in this race, slid all the way to third in 56.21.
Missy Franklin from the US was in 4th in 56.92, and will have to wait to win her first World Championship medal. The good news is that, at only 15, she’s got at least 12 more meets, and 7 times that many races, before she’s the same age as the champion Coughlin.
Men’s 100 breaststroke
Cameron van der Burgh from South Africa could be called “Mr. Arena”. Though his teammate Roland Schoeman is getting a lot of pressure from the swimsuit manufacturer to perform, van der Burgh has no such issues. Since signing with Arena in March of 2009, he won the 2009 Arena World Cup title, and now a 100 breaststroke World title. In honor of the support he’s gotten, the first thing he did was to hop up on the lane-rope and emphatically highlight the ARENA logo on the front of his cap. His winning time was 56.8. Italy’s Fabio Scozzoli continued what has been a fantastic meet for the Italian men and added a worlds silver to his European gold from earlier this year in a finishing time of 57.13. Mike Alexandrov continued the disappointment from the American men by taking 4th from the middle lane. Brenton Rickard, who needed a swim-off to make the final, put his second chance to good use and moved up to 5th. Another DQ, this time for Japan’s Naoya Tomita; though this time it did not affect the medal counts.
Men’s 100 fly
With Germany’s Steffen Deibler, who will end the season with the world’s best time, failing to make it out of the preliminary heats in this event, it left the field wide open. Besides Diebler’s absence, there wasn’t a single American nor Australian in the field. This made for an exciting race with a lot of swimmers getting a chance at some serious spotlight. Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin hasn’t done much since losing the rubber suits (though he was clearly the best in the world in this race with them), and finally snapped his cold streak. His winning time of 50.23 is by far his best since the suits were outlawed, and second best in the world this year. Venezuela’s Albert Subirats, who won 2 NCAA titles in this event at Arizona and has bounced around training centers for the last few years, may have settled on success with his old age group coach as he took the silver by the slimmest of margins in 50.24. Kaio Almeida from Brazil won the bronze in 50.33. All 8 finalists were within 6 tenths of a second, which makes it probably by far the most competitive race this meet will see.
Women’s 800 free
The Spanish women won their third individual gold of the meet thanks to a win by Erika Villaecija Garcia in the women’s 800 free. It was a bit of a surprise victory for her, as it was a career-best time for her in short course. This past long course season, she was ranked only 14th in the world in this event, a ranking she matched short course coming into this meet (including being beaten by two Spanish teammates at the recent European SC Championships). But Villaecija was part of a trio on the right side of the pool (along with Denmark’s Lotte Friis and the USA’s Kate Ziegler) who pushed each other throughout the race. On the far side of the pool, her breakout sensation teammate Mareia Belmonte Garcia lurked. Belmonte is relatively new to the distance freestyle races, and that inexperience might have done her in. She seemed to have left a little too much in her tank, and appeared poised to win if the race were 900 meters, and posted the best closing 100 of 59.53. In the end, she ran out of room, and Villaecija won in 8:11.61. Belmonte took silver in 8:12.48, and Ziegler was third in 8:12.84. Friis finished in 4th, well ahead of the rest of the field.
Men’s 800 free relay
It was clear from early in this race that the third World Record of the meet would be broken. What wasn’t clear was which relay team would break it. The German, French, Russian, and American relays all front-loaded in a big way, and the issue became which teams would have enough left on the backend to hang on for the gold. In this case, it was the Russians, who had amazing consistency will all 4 swimmers touching between 1:42.1-1:42.5. The Americans got off to another poor start, just like in Day 1’s 400 free relay, but this time they had Lochte on the second leg to make up the gap easily. He split a 1:40.48, which was the fastest in the field by a second-and-a-half. This put the Americans in a great position headed into the last two legs. The swimmers hailing from Longhorn Aquatics, Garrett Weber-Gale and Ricky Berens, continued that programs good performances at this meet by swimming matching 1:42’s at the end of the race. But it was the Russians, and specifically the relay experience of Evgeny Lagunov, that made the difference as they touched in a new all-time best mark of 6:49.04 (2 seconds better than the old mark held by the Canadian). The Americans were second in 6:49.58, with the French, thanks to a great leadoff by Yannick Agnel, beat out the Germans for the bronze.