With the 2011 FINA World Aquatics Championships in the books, it’s time to give out some awards. These are our awards and will not necessarily match-up with the “official awards” handed out at the meet.
Swimmers of the Meet – These awards go to the swimmers whose performances, in a vaccuum of the medal standings, were the best-of-the-best.
Ryan Lochte, USA – Lochte won 5 gold medals, 4 of them in individual races, in 5 finals events: the 200 free, 200 IM, 400 IM, 200 back, and as part of the USA’s 800 free relay. He also earned a bronze for his prelims swim in the men’s 400 free relay. He also became the first swimmer in the post-textile era to break a World Record when he swam his 200 IM in 1:54.00. As the swimmer walking away from the meet with the most individual World Championships, this was an easy pick.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Phelps (USA), Sun Yang (China)
Federica Pellegrini, Italy – Pellegrini won both of her gold medals early in the meet, in the women’s 200 and 400, so it was easy to forget about her in the Ryan Lochte/Missy Franklin/James Magnussen/Sun Yang hysterics that went on during the rest of the meet. Still, her ability to systematically pick-off her competitors at the close of these races was phenomenal. With her win in the 200 free, she breaks a few “firsts”: she becomes the first woman to defend a 200 free title at either an Olympics or World Championships, and she becomes the first non-institutional-doping-East-German to hold the Olympic, World Championship, and European titles simultaneously (Heike Friedrich of East Germany did it, but she was later confirmed to be a part of the East German Anabolic Steroid program). After two swims like that, it’s hard to knock her for Italy’s inability to put together a top relay; she did her part.
Honorable Mentions: Rebecca Soni (USA), Missy Franklin (USA), Lotte Friis (Denmark)
Most Valuable Swimmers – If you approach Worlds from a “team” perspective, these are the two swimmers who were most significant to their teams’ high levels of success, throughout both individual and relay swims.
Michael Phelps, USA – Yes, Ryan Lochte might have outperformed Phelps as an individual (the former won both head-to-head matchups between the two), but between the two, Michael Phelps would cause the biggest dent in the overall American performance if he retired today. There is no swimmer in the world who was more important too all three of his countries relays than wass Phelps. As another interesting perspective of Phelps’ importance to Team USA – in 3 of Lochte’s 4 individual championships, an American also took the silver (and Clary was just outtouched by Irie in the 200 back). In Phelps’ two (the 100 fly and 200 fly) the other Americans finished 3rd and 9th, respectively.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Lochte (USA), Paul Biedermann (Germany), Fabien Gilot (France), James Magnussen (Australia)
Rebecca Soni, USA – So long as Rebecca Soni is on this USA roster, they will continue to dominate the world in the women’s 400 medley relay. With all due respect to each of the other three relay members, they were all relatively interchangeable at this meet. In the finals, however, no other swimmer was closer than 1.3 seconds to Soni on the breaststroke leg, and so long as she maintains that far ahead of the rest of the world, she will be a big ace-in-the-hole for Soni in that race. Not to mention the fact that Soni completely dominated the 100 and 200 breaststrokes in a combination that we didn’t see from any other woman in this meet.
Honorable Mentions: Alicia Coutts (Australia), Yi Tang (China), Missy Franklin (USA)
Swims of the Meet – These are the individual event performances that skied above all others in this meet. Each swim was held independently of an athlete’s overall body of work.
Sun Yang, China, 1500 free – China’s Sun Yang lit the swimming world up when he broke the oldest World Record on the books in this 1500 free. This was one of the few World Records that actually survived the era of polyurethane suits – it was set back in 2001. But Sun didn’t just break this World Record; despite being 10 seconds ahead of the field, this might have been one of the most dramatic finishes of the entire meet. Sun was roughly two seconds off of World Record pace with 200 meters to go, but closed in a simply amazing split of 25.94 on the last 50 to sneak under the old mark. At only 19, this man still has a long way to go, and could break this record more than once more.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Lochte’s 200 IM (USA), James Magnussen’s 400 free relay leadoff (Australia), Alexander Dale Oen’s 100 breaststroke (Norway)
Missy Franklin, USA, 200 back – There were no World Records broken on the women’s side, but the closest anybody came was American 16-year old Missy Franklin in the women’s 200 backstroke. Her gold-medal time of 2:05.10 lopped nearly a second off of Margaret Hoelzer’s old American Record, and was the 3rd-best swim in event history. She beat a trio of swimmers in 2nd-4th places who all broke their National Records by sizeable margins as well.
Honorable Mentions: Lotte Friis’ 1500 free (Denmark), Dana Vollmer’s 100 fly (USA), Shiwen Ye’s 400 IM (China), USA Women’s 400 medley relay (USA)
Breakout Stars – These are the two swimmers who made the biggest waves at their first ever World Championship meets. I think these are going to be pretty obvious to most, but…
James Magnussen, Australia – This Aussie, one of the youngest members of their men’s team, broke one of the oldest textile-best swims on the books. Twice. He led of Australia’s mens 400 free relay in a 47.49, just a week after plenty of media reports about his battles with a nasty respiratory infection, and a day later followed it up with a 47.63 to win individual gold. Hats off to Magnussen and the Australian training staff for getting him fit and in the pool in time to put up some big number the very first days of this meet.
Missy Franklin, USA – Franklin didn’t get to swim the bredth of events that we’ve seen from her at many meets over the past few years, but she took advantage of her few opportunities to put up some big numbers. She won the women’s 200 back in easily the best time in the world, she led of the American 800 free relay in a time that would’ve won the individual race by half-a-second, and she had the fastest freestyle split in the 400 medley relay final. There will be tons of discussion now about what this huge talent will swim in London, but there’s no doubt that she will be one of the stars for the US in London.
Biggest Overperformers of the Meet – These are the swimmers/teams/swims that were the most above-and-beyond what we’ve seen from them coming into the meet. We will list our 5 biggest overperformers, in order, beginning with the most impressive.
1. Team Canada – The Canadians won 4 individual medals at this World Championship, which is more that they’ve won since 1982, and in the process broke 6 National Records. They were led by Sinead Russell, who became the first Canadian woman under a minute in the 100 backstroke (59.68) and Ryan Cochrane, who set the Western Hemisphere Record in the men’s 800 free (7:41.86). Brent Hayden also brok 48 in the men’s 100 freestyle again, which was not a given after his swims throughout this season and in the prelims and semifinals of this meet.
2. New Zealand – The New Zealanders broke more National Records in this meet than any other team in the field, with a grand total of 9. The leaders were breaststroke Glenn Synders and freestyler Lauren Boyle, who had great early round swims before missing out on medals. Though the Kiwis didn’t score any medals in this meet, they’ve established themselves prior to the London 2012 Olympics with some serious medal contenders.
3. Gergo Kis – Coming into this meet, Hungary’s Gergo Kis had seed times that were fairly good, but nothing that would challenge for a medal. In his two bronze-medal swims in the men’s 800 and 1500, however, he knocked a combined 23 seconds off of his Hungarian National Records to earn half of his country’s medals at this meet.
4. Women’s 100 freestyle champions – The co-champions in the women’s 100 freestyle, Aleksandra Herasimenia and Jeanette Ottesen, both come from small, non-traditional swimming nations: Belarus and Denmark. Neither one entered the meet as anything resembling a “favorite,” and in fact headed into the final neithe one’s odds looked that good. But swimming out of lanes 6 and 8, the pair overcame the world and their competitors from much larger, much more powerful nations (two Americans, a Brit, two Dutchwomen, and an Aussie) to tie for the gold medal. In that final, if you had asked me to pick the two that I would not expect to win gold, it probably would have been those two.
5. Jeremy Stravius – Stravius came into this meet expected to be a solid contributor to the French effort, but he took his swims a step above that. In the men’s 100 backstroke, he tied with countrymate Camille Lacourt, and he swam key middle legs on each of France’s silver-medal winning freestyle relays.
Biggest Underperformers of the Meet – Those who made this list really didn’t live up to the hype and expectations, whether or not that hype and expectations were deserved or not, at this meet. We took into account those swimmers who might have been coming off of injuries or extended layoffs, and really weren’t going to do as well as their historical performances anyways.
1. The Russian Men – The Russian men failed to win a relay medal for the first time since they became the “Russians”. That is to say – ever, and further than that if you count the Soviet Union. Despite looking very good in 2009 with a very young squad, in fact, they came away from this meet with no medals in any race, period, including in the 800 freestyle where they were heavy favorites for silver but failed to even make the final. The balance of power in Russia seems to be shifting towards the women’s team that was responsible for all 4 of the country’s medals.
2. Australian women’s 200 freestylers – This year, things were supposed to be different. The incredible depth and speed of times that the Aussies put up at their World Championship Trials was supposed to be just the tip of the iceburg. But just like we saw last season, there wasn’t a whole lot of improvement in these 200 freestyles. Kylie Palmer was so-so, but slower than she was at Nationals, and their 800 free relay that they were supposed to dominate was more than a second back of the Americans, even with Allison Schmitt not being on her game either. The Aussies need to figure out over the next 11 months how to reverse this trend and get their better swims at the big meet rather than the trials.
3. Chloe Sutton – Sutton was a “hot pick” going into World’s in both the women’s 800 and 1500, with some even choosing her to medal in the 400. Ultimately, she only made one final, and that was a 4th-place finish in her last swim: the 800. But her mom made a very good point via her facebook that the expectations were probably too high to begin with. Afterall, as a former open water swimmer, Sutton never once in her career had a full taper prior to this meet, and at such an elite level, it’s not always easy to hit your taper on the first shot, even with the best coaching in the world. She showed sparks in the 800 at the end of the meet, however, so things could turn out much better in London.
4. Great Britain – The Brits took a big move forward in 2009, with 7 medals, and many had thought they’d at least match that total here. They were derailed by bouts with sickness and an inability to adjust to the time change, however, and opened this meet up very slowly. Through the first few days, the only swimmer who really did well was Ellen Gandy in the 200 fly, and she trains in Australia and as such wasn’t as affected by the time change as her teammates. But the Brits did come on strong at the end of the meet, including great wins from Liam Tancock (men’s 50 backstroke) and Rebecca Adlington (800 free) to salvage the meet to some extent. Next year in London, they won’t have to deal with the jetlag or strange cuisines, so things should go much better for them.
5. Kosuke Kitajima – Most of Dave Salo’s breaststroke crew at USC performed fairly well at this meet, certainly much better than many of his other trainees. 5 of the 9 women’s breaststroke medals, for example, will be coming back to La-La Land. But Kosuke Kitajima, on the other hand, will bring only one, and a silver at that, from the 200 breaststroke, despite finishing 2010 as the best in the world in both the 100 and the 200. He’s never as good at the World Championships as he is at the Olympics, but even by his standards this was a down meet. Other than his first appearance in 2001, Kitajima has never failed to come home without at least two individual medals before.