Round two of the great Ian Thorpe return didn’t go even as well as his first day back, where he was 7th in the 100 IM. On day 2 of the 2011 FINA World Cup in Singapore, Thorpe’s only event was the 100 fly, where he touched in 54.09 for 11th in the prelims. It took a 53.67 from Yin Chen of China to get top 8 and earn an evening swim.
In a sort of opposite dynamic from what we saw in his day 1 swim, Thorpe actually came home fairly well in this race, but on both legs was just a bit off of the pace where he needed to be to earn a final. The different pacings from day 1 to day 2 shows that Thorpe is really working on exactly what he knows he needs to work on – adjusting to racing in his new, 29-year old body.
Was the swim a failure? From one perspective, I’d still argue “no,” as I did yesterday, that it’s too early to declare the comeback a failure or a success. From another perspective, this one is a little bit more disappointing than his 100 IM because he didn’t earn a second swim. The ability to get used to morning-evening swims is a key perspective of returning to racing. Had he gone the same time, and made a final, it would have not been as disappointing, if that makes sense.
Meanwhile, over the weekend Thorpe’s chances at an Olympic bid got that much tougher. Not because of anything he did, but because of the emergence of a young, teenage Australian named Cameron McEvoy. The 17-year old is a 100-200 specialist (similar to what James Magnussen says he is), and he showed that this weekend. He posted a 47.33 to win the 100 free to take the victory over Kyle Richardson (47.46), who was on the prelims squad for the Australians at the World Championships.
For McEvoy, that’s a best time by more than a full second (48.34 from July’s Australian Short Course Championships). His best in long course is a 49.67, but if you assume that he’ll be a second faster by Trials (not much of a leap for a teenager), then Thorpe will probably have to be going at least that to make the team in the 100.
McEvoy also went a 1:44.45 in the 200 free, which is by 4 seconds the best time of his career (and that previous career best was done only two months ago). That took 2nd behind South Africa’s Chad le Clos, the series leader, in 1:43.80.
All of a sudden, McEvoy isn’t just a contender for relay spots, but he’s in the picture for individual swims for the Australians. The interesting aspect of this is that when Thorpe decided to make his comeback, neither McEvoy nor Magnussen were much of a threat. But suddenly, a huge youth movement in Australian sprinting has made the comeback go from “great timing” to “terrible timing”. Still, a glut of sprinters is never a bad thing on an Olympic stage.
Lest we forget the other Australian making a big international return, Libby Trickett. Her performance was a touch better than Thorpe’s, though she’s further into her comeback (and was shorter out of the water) than Thorpe. She took 6th in the 50 (25.09), 6th in the 100 free (54.61 – she’s the World Record holder in this event). The 100 fly was her best swim with a 58.39 in prelims (17th in the World), but she slipped well off of that pace to place 8th in finals.
Like Thorpe, Trickett is probably best aimed at a relay spot in a freestyle race. Though she’s swimming well in the butterflies, the Australian butterfly contingent is very deep, maybe the deepest in the world, and will be hard to crack a top-two in.
Trickett too was outshined by a younger teammate at the meet, this one being 17-year old Emma McKeon of the famed McKeon swimming family. She took a monster win in the 100 free in 52.41, which is almost a second better than she was at Worlds last year as her career-best time. That’s the #3 time in the world (behind only Missy Franklin and Germany’s Daniela Schreiber.
The American group from Palo Alto that was in town for the meet didn’t seem to have rested, despite the expense of travel. The star of the group is USC commit Jasmine Tosky, who was on the American World Championships team. She made the finals in her 5-best events, the 100 and 200 fly, 200 and 400 IM, and 200 free, but none of her times were all that impactful. The best was probably a 2:11.34 in the 200 IM.
Celina Li, who hails from the nearby Pleasanton Seahawks, did impress however and made a statement in the national spotlight with her swims. She was 4th in both of the IM races, which was one spot ahead of Tosky but a huge leap in time. In the 200, Li put up a 2:09.9 and a 4:34.4, respectively. She will be one of the huge grabs in the recruiting class of 2013, which is about as loaded as this year’s was.
In one of the other highlights of the weekend, the french swimmers Jeremy Stravius and Benjamin Stasulius had a great showdown in the 100 backstroke that nearly resulted in a tie (like we saw between Stravius and another French swimmer Lacourt at Worlds). Stravius wasn’t about to let himself be tied again, and used a strong back-half to nip his countrymate 51.80-51.94.
Oddly, neither swimmer had a great race in the 200 backstroke, won by former Florida Gator Omar Pinzon (1:52.27), despite the fact that Stasulius is better in the 200 than the 100. Stravius did, however, put up a world-leading 50 backstroke of 23.76. That just about matches his time from Short Course Worlds a year ago.
In other 50-meter racing, Therese Alshammar swam a 25.01 to win the 50 fly over hometown favorite Tao Li in 25.54. For Alshammar, that’s the second-fastest she’s ever been outside of the rubber-suited World Cup in 2009 where she set the World Record. Though the 50 fly is not a part of the Olympic lineup, it’s still a good sign for Alshammar, already named to the Swedish Olympic team, that at 34 she can still get the fast-twich muscle going enough to put up those sort of times. The question becomes does she put everything into the 50 free and relays, Dara Torres style, or does she go after the 100 fly?
FINA hasn’t updated the overall series standings, but we do know that on the men’s side, Chad le Clos took the maximum 25 points in Singapore, for the best individual swim, by winning the men’s 200 fly in 1:51.05. That pushes him to 111 points for the series. Hidemsa Sano of Japan, who didn’t swim in this meet, sits 2nd with 70 points, which would be good for $50,000. It’s a bit surprising that Sano hasn’t jumped into the Asian leg of the series yet, given that the costs of travel are significantly reduced and the fact that he was gaining on Le Clos in the battle for $100,000.
The standings are by no mean out of reach, despite Le Clos’ lead. As many as 75 points can be earned at the final two stops (Tokyo points are doubled), which means that if Sano returns, he’s well within striking distance. Still, even if Sano earned the maximum points, Le Clos would have to finish with about the 4th-best swim at each of the last two stops, which is lower than he has so far. A win in Beijing next week by le Clos, and anything less than a runner-up from Sano, would seal things for le Clos.
On the women’s side, defending champion Therese Alshammar tied American Missy Franklin, who swam only two legs of the series, with 70 points. Franklin is not a factor in the money, due to her amateur status, which leaves Allison Schmitt still in great position for the $50,000 second prize, despite having gone home to Baltimore. She plans to return to NCAA competition next year, though, and also will decline the money. In 4th is Angie Bainbridge of Australia (who also scored her points in Europe). Bainbridge didn’t swim at this meet, but if she ever were considering a trip to Tokyo, she would have an outstanding opportunity to more-than make the money back on the flight up there.