The final stop of the Mare Nostrum series this season is in Monaco, and with a purse of over $50,000 Euro’s (about $75,000), in addition to $30,000 worth of series prizes, on the line, there was a ton of excitement in the air.
Besides the money, the Monaco step has a lot of interesting quirks that result in a great experience for the fans. Notably, the 50m races are decided by “showdowns,” with a bracket-style field whittling down the competition from a full-field prelims, to 16, 8, 4, and finally a mano-a-mono final with only two swimmers. Much like we saw at the Charlotte UltraSwim last month, with Cullen Jones and Josh Schneider fighting for a World Championship spot, these sort of showdowns really buzz up some big excitement.
Shiho Sakai blasted the field in the women’s 200 backstroke. When she came up off of the start a body-length clear of the field, you knew it was going to be a special swim. And though runner-up Kirsty Coventry, the two-time defending Olympic champion, has never been great underwater, Sakai wasn’t giving up much distance above the water, either. Sakai used incredible walls to put four seconds between her and the rest of the field, and at the final touch she came up with a 2:07.74. That’s the 2nd-fastest swim we’ve seen this year, behind Belinda Hocking, and is also a career-best for her. Coventry’s final time was 2:11.57: well off of her season best from the Maria Lenk Trophy in May.
For Sakai, that time also obliterated the meet-record that was set back in 2007 by more than two seconds. Sakai has been on the international scene since she was about 15, but has been predominantly a sprinter. This year, freshly out of her 20’s, she’s evolved her 200 backstroke to the point that it’s become her best event, and that seems to have gotten her back on track towards superstardom after plateauing the past few seasons.
In the men’s backstroke race, which today was the 100, Ryosuke Irie finished off a sweep of the Mare Nostrum 100 backstrokes in 53.47, and for the third meet in a row, he did so in meet-record performance.
His marks for the series went: Barcelona – 53.48; Canet – 53.76; Monaco – 53.47. This gives him half of the world’s top 8 times this season. France’s Camille Lacourt looked to have a sizable lead in this race, but faded badly in the last 15-meters to finish 3rd in 54.21. This race might show a touch of vulnerability for Lacourt, who has been showing a bit of tendinitis in his elbow, though he still has to be considered the favorite in Shanghai.
In the women’s 400 IM, Britain’s Hannah Miley came alive to win by nearly 10 seconds in 4:35.89. That’s Miley’s best time this season and moves her to 4th in the world this season. A good swim here fits perfectly into her season plan: she swam very well at last year’s Mare Nostrum (including a pair of 4:35-lows), which she turned into a European Championship and the world’s fastest time in 2010.
The Neatherlands’ Femke Heemskerk took down the meet record in the women’s 200 freestyle twice: once in prelims, and once in finals. Her final result was a win in 1:56.55. She just out-touched France’s Camille Muffat, who was fighting hard to hold on to her meet record but came up just short in 1:56.61.
While their backstroking teammates are heating up, Japan’s feared breaststrokers are tailing off in this 3rd meet of the Mare Nostrum Ryo Tateishi and is slowing down in the 200 breaststroke in this 3rd Mare Nostrum stop. He took an easy win in 2:12.93, with most of the breaststroke competition heading home or elsewhere for more training, which is more than a second slower than he went in Canet. He did, however, beat his countrymate, and the world’s top-ranked swimmer, Naoya Tomita (2:14.44).
Australia’s Samantha Marshall won the women’s 100 breaststroke in a lackluster 1:09.30. Despite the lagging time, the race still had an exciting finish as she out-touched German 200m champ Caroline Runhau (1:09.35) and Japan’s Satomi Suzuki (1:09.56).
Though much of the conversation about Japanese swimmers at these mid-season meets is that they tend to swim very well during the year and then not taper much off at the end, the breaststrokers seem to be following a different pattern. As is evidenced by these results, this stroke group is nowhere near their season-best times from Japanese Nationals in April.
An example of the corollary came in the men’s 200 fly, where Takeshi Matsuda won in 1:55.68, which is a new Meet Record by seven-tenths. That is not his best time of the season, but gives him four out of the ten fastest swims in the world this year. The runner-up was Hungarian teenager Bence Biczo, who is building well towards Hungarian Nationals in two weeks. He swam a season-best time of 1:55.92, which improves his hold on 6th in the world rankings. His fellow Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, who’s been on an absolute tear this meet, took 3rd in 1:56.11. That just misses his best time of the season, but was his best time of the Mare Nostrum.
Yuka Kato won the women’s 100 fly in 58.56, ahead of Dutch swimmer Inge Dekker (59.23). For Kato, that time is a big improvement off of her subpar times from Canet and Barcelona.
Matt Targett, himself on a mini-comeback year, won the men’s 100 free in 48.86. In the win, he well out-paced a pair of France’s finest: William Meynard (49.41) and Fabien Gilot (49.70).
In the quarterfinals of the 50’s, the most notable result was Roland Schoeman, who swam a 22.31 to take the top seed headed towards the semi’s of the 50 free. That’s his best time of the season; perhaps Schoeman was spurred on by the presence of the South African youth team at the meet. Either way, Schoeman’s time spent training in Europe seems to have remotivated him and re-energized him after some very disappointed-sounding comments following South African Nationals.
Full Results from the quarterfinals of the 50’s.