The next evolution of the Ian Thorpe comeback, as he swam a freestyle race for the first time since retiring 5 years ago, was completed early this morning American time. The Australian swimmer, hailed as one of the greatest of all-time, fell a bit flat on placing in the 100 free, which was followed-up by a similarly flat encore in the 100 IM.
His 100 free, which he announced as a “focus” event for him, resulted in a 15th-place finish in the morning heats with a time of 50.21. This was just shy of the 50.0 target that we set for him in our preview, so overall it’s hard to be too disappointed in the performance.
We learned that he is adapting well to the new shorter schedule, something he didn’t do much of at a serious level in his first go-around in the sport, as he went out in a fairly quick 24.00. That mark is comparable to those put up by the 8 finalists (took a 49.60 to earn an evening swim), but as we’ve seen more than once in his return, he fell flat in the second half. The 26.21 that he came home in was more comporable to the 18th-or-19th-place swimmers.
Overall, this was a decent debut of his new Popov-hybrid 100 freestyle.
Meanwhile, at the top of that race, Another Australian Kyle Richardson and South Africa’s Chad le Clos had a phenomenal battle to the touch, with Richardson ultimately coming out on top 47.38-47.39. The Australianwent out at a blistering pace (he opened in a 22.69) and had just enough to hold off le Clos at the touch.
Richardson was a touch faster over the summer at Australian short course Nationals, but the time really allows him to keep pace with young Aussie Cameron McEvoy, who swam a 47.33 in Singapore. Those two will likely be fighting, along with Thorpe, for the final spot on the 400 free relay.
For Le Clos, this swim is sort of the next evolution in his development as a new-generation leader of the aging South African team. He’s showed promise in his primary event, the 200 fly, since a very young age, but if he can continue to put some pressure into his 100 freestyles, he has a chance to really explode in popularity and success. As we saw at the World Championships, South Africa was one leg short of having an outstanding, medal-contending relay, and it’s possible that Le Clos will be that piece.
Overall on the first day, Le Clos took two event wins (in the 200 fly in a dominant 1:51.74 and the 400 IM in 4:07.46) in a little more than an hour-and-a-half. That nets him a cool $5,000 in race prizes and also all-but-guarantees him the $100,000 overall series prize (unless someone shows up and starts breaking World Records, which is very unlikely).
Thorpe, on a second swim of the session, posted a 56.70 in the 100 IM to place 9th and miss the final. That was 4-tenths slower than he was able to go in Singapore, but was actually a hair faster than his 56.74 from prelims. The splitting was also fairly similar to his previous attempt, as he went out in 26.2 and came back in 30.4.
The other Australian on the comeback trail, Libby Trickett, had a very good performance. She was able to top her Singapore best in the 50 free with a 24.96 for 6th-place. The top two in the races were the young Emma McKeon (24.15), who has swum well the past two meets, and Sweden’s Therese Alshammar (24.16) who is the series leader. 19-year old Aussie Cate Campbell took 3rd in 24.26.
For Mckeon, that bettered her 24.4 in Singapore, and moves to 5th in the world. That also gives her three lifetime bests swims in four attempts at this 50 free during the 2011 World Cup.
Trickett also swam the 100 fly, and while her 7th-place finish in 58.59 isn’t faster than she was in Singapore, it was more imporatantly faster than she was in prelims. You’ll recall that at the last stop, she was very fast in this race in prelims (a 58.3) but pulled way back in finals to finish 8th.