With only four finals on the first evening session, it might seem like there was a derth of candidates for race of the night. But this was one of the better (non-suit aided) opening nights in recent memory. Dana Vollmer kills an American Record in the 100 fly in a textile-best in only a semi-final, breaking the mark of Inge de Bruijn (56.47 ahead of 56.61); James Magnussen crushes one of the great textile marks ever in the 100 free with a 47.49 relay leadoff (ahead of Pieter van den Hoogenband’s 47.84); and – the one that’s getting overlooked – Italy’s Federica Pellegrini goes under 4:02 in textile for the second time, making her the only swimmer to even do it once (4:01.97). (Though, she was wearing two suits, so there’s some debate as to whether or not this should count for a textile best.)
And those weren’t just breaking any textile best. Vollmer downed the mark of all-time-great in de Bruijn, that was set all the way back at the 2000 Olympics. Van den Hoogenband’s mark in the 100 free (47.84) had stood since that same Olympics. Incidentally, de Bruijn and Hoogenband were both Dutch – man was that a heck of a year for swimming in the Netherlands.
Pellegrini’s swim took down the textile-best of recent returnee Laure Manaudou, set in 2006, back when she was at the top of the swimming world and was unbeatable for about a four-year period in this race.
But the edge for race of the night goes to Magnussen. Partially because he was so far ahead of where anyone’s gone in textile. But there’s more to it than that. The 100 free is a NAME race. It’s not a race like a 400 free, where most swimming fans don’t even know what a good time looks like. It’s not an 800 or a 1500, that most swim fans don’t particularly like watching more than one heat of in a meet. It’s not even the 50 free, where the start is pretty much the whole race and there’s not even enough time for a turn or a whole lot of real swimming. It’s the 100 free – a race that everyone can relate to.
Looking through the World Record holders of Klim, Biondi, Gaines and Spitz. Even all the way back to Johnny “Tarzan” Weismuller and Duke “Mr. Hawaii” Kahanamoku, 100 freestylers have historically been among the most popular and mainstream of swimmers. What race did legend Ian Thorpe put his focus on after returning from retirement? The 100 free, of course.