Day 3 of the 2012 Olympics has some incredibly exciting finals, including Missy Franklin in her first Olympic final, and American Matt Grevers waiting to see if anybody in the world wants to challenge him in the men’s 100 backstroke.
Overall, though, this should be a bit “calmer” of a day. The biggest chance for upending comes in the 200 freestyle, where three swimmers already with gold medals around their necks (Ryan Lochte, Sun Yang, and Yannick Agnel) will face off with the likes of Tae-Hwan Park and World Record holder Paul Biedermann.
Missy actually has two races tonight, starting with the 200 free semi-finals before that 100 back final. This will be a tall task for her to pull off a win, but a medal seems like a great chance.
Women’s 200 Free – Semifinal
Neither heat of this women’s 200 free was all that fast, but the first featuring Allison Schmitt and Camille Muffat was considerably, and not surprisingly, better than the 2nd. Australia’s Bronte Barratt had a great last 10 meters to take the top seed in 1:56.08, followed by Schmitt in 1:56.15 and Muffat in 1:56.18. Both of those swimmers cruised considerably, especially Muffat who was easy and balanced for the whole of the 200 meters. Those two, at least, will blow those numbers away in finals.
As for the 2nd heat, Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, the defending World Champion, took control of the race early to sit as the 4th seed overall in 1:56.67, followed in her heat by Britain’s Caitlin McClatchey (6th – 1:57.33), Kylie Palmer the second Australian (7th – 1:57.44), and American Missy Franklin in a nail-bitign 1:57.57 for 8th. That left her just two tenths ahead of Spains’ Melanie Costa-Schmid in 1:57.76.
If that was planned by Franklin, it was a perfect swim. She’ll be in lane 8, which is something we’ve seen a lot from big names at this meet. The results for those swimmers have been mixed; Phelps was 4th in the 400 IM, but Hansen and Adlington took a bronze in the women’s 400 free.
The other finalist is Russia’s Veronika Popova, who has come on hard in the last 18 months in the 100 and 200 frees, in a new Russian Record of 1:56.84. That puts her as the 5th seed.
Germany’s Silke Lippok went out very hard in this race, and was in the lead at the halfway mark. She couldn’t hold on though, and was 13th in 1:58.24. Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom is really struggling in this meet, and she was 12th in 1:58.12.
Men’s 200 Free – Final
France’s Yannick Agnel was a monster on his relay anchor on Sunday evening, and in the men’s 200 free, he proved that he is the real deal. Agnel broke out first coming off of the blocks, and led this race wire-to-wire en route to a 1:43.14. That’s a new French National Record, and ranks him third in history (4th best swim).
Agnel was out in a fast, but controlled, 50.69, where the race was still close. He really gassed this off of the last wall though – he is a very tall swimmer, and a very long swimmer, at 6’8. That really stood out in this race against competitors Tae-Hwan Park and Ryan Lochte, who are both just at or just over 6-feet tall. It also was evident against China’s Sun Yang, who though tall doesn’t have nearly Agnel’s underwaters. The Frenchman exploded off of the last wall and just pulled away from the competition, making it clear from the first stroke on that closing 50 that this race wasn’t going to be close.
Coming in at a tie for 2nd place were Asian rivals Yang and Park in matching 1:44.93’s. Yang couldn’t produce the closing speed we saw in his 400 free gold medal win. His closing split was 27.00 – six-tenths slower than in his 400.
The tie means that no silver medal will be awarded.
American Ryan Lochte was 4th in 1:45.04. As good as he looked in the 400 IM, his freestyles just haven’t been as good, between this swim and the 100 relay anchor last night. That’s half-a-second slower than he was to win the World Championship last year. He was followed by the World Record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany, who was 5th in 1:45.53. He’ll be left with just the medley relay (possibly) for a shot at his lone medal.
There was a big dropoff to 6th, where Robbie Renwick was 6th in 1:46.53, followed by Thomas Fraser-Holmes of Australia (1:46.93) and Danila Izotov (1:47.75).
Women’s 100 Back – Final
Franklin’s perfect pacing in the 200 free semi’s paid off here, just as it did in Omaha in June. She masterfully conserved just enough energy to swim a 58.33 – breaking her own American Record, and winning her first ever Olympic gold medal.
Coming into this meet, there were concerns about how she would handle the pressure. But that’s what makes Franklin unique as compared to so many of the other great teenage swimmers we’ve seen come and go: the pressure means nothing to her, if not more motivation. This race in particular is the one that the Franklin camp has been thinking about for months, having to swim two races in the same session. Franklin handled it with ease, though, winning this race on a fantastic turn. Turns were one of two weaknesses (along with the start) in Franklin’s race last summer, but she’s more-than cleared that issue up.
Franklin now has 5 more finals, and with plenty of confidence behind her now after breaking through for the win, she can’t be counted out in any of them.
As for Australia’s Emily Seebohm, who was so good in the first two rounds, she swam a very similar race to what she did in the semi-finals: out in a 28.57 to lead (a hair faster, but nothing worth mentioning), but ran out of steam on the back-half. She finished for silver in 58.68, four-tenths slower than her best from this meet. That silver will give her a fist career individual medal though; she swam on two medal-winning relays as a 16-year old in 2008.
In 3rd was Japan’s Satomi Suzuki in 58.83 – a new Japanese and Asian Record.
Russia’s Anastasia Zueva was a 58.9 at Russia’s Olympic Trials, but she couldn’t get under here in London and touched 4th in 59.00. That’s a slight improvement over her 5th place in 2008, but four years later she was hoping for a medal.
Britain’s Gemma Spofforth took 5th in 59.20, her best time in years, followed by Jhao Zing of China in 59.23 and Belinda Hocking of Australia in 59.29 for 7th. This is only the 2nd time in history (after 2011 Worlds) where we saw three swimmers go under 59 seconds in the same race, and even this was faster than the polyurethane-fueled madness of that season. This is still an extremely young group of swimmers, and we could see largely the same final in Rio in 2016.
Men’s 100 Back – Final
American Matt Grevers stepped up to the plate in this men’s 100 back. Only one other swimmer came up with him, but France’s Camille Lacourt struck out big time as the United States claimed their third gold medal of the meet with a 52.16 in this men’s 100 back.
Grevers and Lacourt, by the turn, had separated themselves as clear favorites with matching 25.3’s on their opening 50 meters. But Grevers leveraged his huge frame into a great set of underwater dolphin kicks; popping up well ahead and crushing the Olympic Record in 52.16. That took down the 52.54 set by Aaron Peirsol in 2008, a race that Grevers had a front row seat to as the silver medalist.
But now he owns gold and two of the four fastest times in history – this race was .08 slower than he was at Trials in June.
Lacourt faded all the way to 4th, which completed a disappointing two-year run since the 2010 European Championships. There, he came within a hair of both the 50 and 100 backstroke World Records, but hasn’t been anywhere near as good in either 2011 or 2012. His time was 53.08 – though he’s been faster than this gold medal time even in textile.
Nobody was close to Grevers at the final touch, but his countrymate Nick Thoman will be thrilled with his race. Thoman, the grandson of a former 100 backstroke World Record holder rin 1952 (yards – when that was a global standard) did something even his amazing ancestor couldn’t in this race: compete at the Olympics and win a medal. He took silver in 52.92 (also a bit slower than Trials).
Thoman’s coach David Marsh would say after the race “Nick was out great, and last 25 he did a perfect Richard W. Quickism: “just keep your arms movin’!” in reference to the late and legendary Richard Quick, under whom Marsh served as an assistant.
Just like the women’s race preceding, Japan earned another bronze here with the always-consistent Ryosuke Irie taking 3rd in 52.97.
As a sign of how disappointing this race was, The top five swimmers in this race ( including Liam Tancock in 53.35) were slower than they were at their respective trials.
Women’s 100 Breaststroke – Final
This women’s 100 breaststroke final got off to a rocky start. A technical malfunction that had the starting beep before the “take your mark” sent American Breeja Larson into the water. There was no disqualification, but the field was certainly shaken.
Through two rounds, this set up as a battle between the upstart Lithuanian 15-year old Ruta Meilutyte and American World Champion Rebecca Soni. This has been Soni’s race to win for about two years now; even when Meilutyte emerged at Britain’s Trials (she trains in Plymouth in the UK, where she moved from her native country two years ago) she looked like maybe a 2013 Worlds contender or a 2014.
Meilutyte was the fastest through the first two rounds of this race, though, and that held true in the final as well. Unshaken by what happened, Meilutyte swam exactly the race she’s been swimming all week: out in 30.56, back in 34.91, finishing in 1:05.47 for an Olympic gold medal.
Soni went out harder than she’s been, but was still far-too-conservative on the front-half. Meilutyte went into the turn just over a meter in front, and Soni just couldn’t make up enough ground. The two were head-and-head coming into the wall, but Meilutyte had a great finish to Soni’s less-than, and that gave her a win. Soni was 2nd in 1:05.55, to repeat a silver medal from 2008.
This is not the first bad finish the American has been touched out on this year. She was beaten by Larson at American Trials in a similar situation.
Japan nabbed a third-straight bronze medal with a 1:06.46 from Satomi Suzuki. Alia Atkinson, who trains in the US in Southern Florida, took 4th in 1:06.93. That’s a surprise finish from her, though she’s shown to be a big-race swimmer, after winning a swimoff just to get to this final.
The defending champion Leisel Jones was 5th, followed by Larson in 1:06.96. On her first true long course taper as an elite swimmer, and her first American touring squad, Larson couldn’t have expected to be as fast as she was at Trials; however she will finish ranked 3rd in the world. She would seem to be far from done ascending in the women’s breaststrokes.
Russia’s Yuliya Efimova will be disappointed with her 7th-place finish in 1:06.98, and Rikke Moeller-Pedersen was 8th.
Men’s 200 fly – Semifinal
Michael Phelps commanded the second semi-final of this men’s 200 fly, and though he wound up just as the 4th-best overall in 1:54.53, but he was better on the last 50 (29.46) than all but one of the finalists (Austria’s Dinko Jukic – 29.46).
Phelps was better in his final 50 than in his 3rd, and still will be the favorite in this final.
As expected, Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda will be right in the race, though, in 1:54.25 out of the faster heat. It’s not uncommon in this 200 fly for one semi to be markedly better than the other. Strong young South African Chad le Clos will be the 2nd seed in 1:54.34, a new African Record, followed by a new Chinese record, and surprising swim, from Yin Chen in 1:54.43.
American Tyler Clary, Jukic, Poland’s Pawel Korzenowski, and Serbian Velimir Stjepanovic will round out the final, all 1:55.1 and better. Last year at Worlds, everyone continued to be strong even in a grueling third round of this race, so don’t expect times to get a whole lot slower on Tuesday.
Women’s 200 IM – Semifinal
Chinese 16-year old Shiwen Ye took command early of this 200 IM – her better of the two races – putting fear into the whole of the field even after just the semi-finals. She broke the Olympic Record already in 2:08.39, which is a new Olympic Record, clearing the 2:08.45 set by Australia’s Stephanie Rice en route to the gold in 2008.
It would be hard not to believe that Ye has another gear still. She closed in just a 30.59, so if she makes the final turn better than 1:38 tomorrow, expect to see the first-ever textile 2:07, at least.
The next four competitors, at least, will probably all be looking at better times in tomorrow’s final as well. Australia’s Alicia Coutts will be 2nd in 2:09.83, followed by the two Americans Caitlin Leverenz (2:10.06) and Ariana Kukors (2:10.08). This 200 is developing into Leverenz’s better event of the two IM’s, and thus far she’s been much faster than she was in the 400.
Leverenz’s college rival Katinka Hosszu sits 4th in 2:10.74, followed closely by Stephanie Rice, Hannah Miley, and Kirsty Coventry in 2:10.8’s and .9’s. That makes a third-straight Olympic final for Coventry.