Coming into day 8 of the FINA World Swimming Championships, the United States women were riding on the momentum of a very successful week of swimming in Barcelona, Spain. With Missy Franklin having tied the record for most golds by a woman at a single World Championships (5) on day 7 with her victory in the 200 meter backstroke, all that remained for the Colorado Stars product to accomplish was to stand alone on top with a potential win in the 4x100m Medley Relay.
The relay was highly anticipated from early on in the competition. From the US perspective, there was plenty of confidence in Franklin, who had claimed the 100 backstroke individual title on day 3 with a time of 58.42. Furthermore, we had all seen Jessica Hardy regain her form from years past in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke, and there was every reason to believe that Hardy would be able to perform one last time at these Championships. Throw in the fact that Megan Romano had thrown down a monstrous 52.60 split to overcome Australia’s Alicia Coutts on day 1, and the US was looking very good with three dependable racers ready to go.
Perhaps the only doubt that anyone had about this relay was how good Dana Vollmer would perform in the final. Even though Vollmer is the world record holder in the 100 meter butterfly and the only woman to ever break 56 seconds with her 55.98 from the London Olympics, she had been recovering from flu-like symptoms that she had experienced near the end of training camp and entering the Championships. Though Vollmer was adamant in stating that sickness would not prevent her from giving it her all, her bronze medal finish in her signature 100 meter butterfly created some concern as to whether she was truly in peak shape.
However, when the lights are on and the whistle blows, there are few competitors who are as versatile and competitive as the Cal Berkeley alum, and Vollmer demonstrated this with her performance on the final day of swimming. Following a very impressive 58.39 lead off split from Franklin (only .06 off her lifetime best from London) and a strong 1:05.10 split from Hardy, Vollmer blazed to a field-best 56.31 fly split that gave Megan Romano plenty of cushion before she anchored in a 53.43. Even with Australia’s contingent anchoring with a blistering 52.09 freestyle split, the United States’ aggregate time of 3:53.23 was nearly two seconds faster than the Australians’ 3:55.22.
With the win in the relay, Franklin became the first woman in history to win six golds at a single World Championships, and she also tied legends Kristin Otto (East Germany) and Americans Tracy Caulkins and Shirley Babashoff with six total medals. Hardy collected her third medal of the Championships, Vollmer collected her second medal, and finally Romano also collected her second medal.
- Matt Grevers will certainly be pleased with himself after he posted a lifetime best 24.54 in the 50 backstroke that was good for a second-place tie with France’s Jeremy Stravius. Though Grevers was unable to break the French stranglehold on the event, he was very cheerful after the race, even mentioning that he could improve on his start. This is Grevers’ first international medal in the backstroke splash-and-dash.
- Yesterday, I mentioned how the depth in the women’s 50 breastsroke was so astonishing that we could possibly see a competitor break 30 seconds and still fail to medal… and that is exactly what we saw today. Jessica Hardy equalled her previous Word/American Record standard of 29.80 and found herself sitting at third place due to the superb efforts of Yuliya Efimova and Ruta Meilutyte ahead of her. Regardless, the time is an additional indicator of Hardy’s resurgence in sprint breaststroke, and she will be very pleased with an additional piece of hardware from these Championships. Breeja Larson swam the race of her life (29.95) and yet it was still not good enough for a medal, but she has to be content with the full half-second she dropped from World Championship Trials last month.
- North Baltimore Aquatic Club and Georgia’s Chase Kalisz nearly completed one of the most ridiculous comebacks in a 400 individual medley that we have ever seen, but fell just short with a second-place 4:09.22 behind Japan’s Daiya Seto who triumphed with a winning time of 4:08.69. Kalisz was out in a 2:02.70 in the first 200 before coming home in an otherworldly 2:06.52 over the last 200 in order to drop a full two seconds off his previous lifetime best of 4:11.83 from a month ago at the US World Championship Trials. In comparison, when Michael Phelps set the world record of 4:03.83 back in Beijing, he took out the race in a very fast 1:56.49 before coming home in a 2:07.34. If Kalisz can improve on his front-half speed, there is no telling how fast he can go in the future. Tyler Clary was unable to match his silver medal performances from the previous two World Championships and had to settle for a 4th place 4:10.39. Clary leaves the championships with his sole medal coming from the 200 meter backstroke, where he finished third behind Ryan Lochte and Poland’s Radoslaw Kawecki.
- Simone Manuel just can’t stop dropping time. She finished in a 24.80 in the 50 freestyle to finish 7th in a heat that was very fast overall, and she clipped her own 15/16 National Age Group record in the process. The record had stood at a 24.91 with her time from the semi-finals. Although Manuel is 17 years old, since she was 16 years old entering the competition, her times count towards the 15/16 age group.
- Connor Jaeger and Michael McBroom turned in very respectable performances in the men’s 1500m freestyle with 4th (14:47.96) and 5th (14:53.95) place finishes respectively. Both swimmers dropped about 5 seconds off their best times, as Jaeger’s previous best had been a 14:52.51 from the US Olympic Trials last year, and McBroom came into World’s with a best of 14:59.12 from World Championship Trials last month.
- Elizabeth Beisel came knocking on Katie Hoff’s American Record (4:31.12) in the women’s 400 individual medley once more with her 3rd place 4:31.69. The time was just .42 seconds short of her personal best 4:31.27 from the London Olympics last year. Stanford’s Maya Dirado continued to make a name for herself with her 4th place 4:32.70, which clipped over a second-and-a-half from her previous best of 4:34.34 from World Championship Trials. If Dirado can continue her impressive ascent on the international scene, the Americans have a very bright future in the 400m individual medley.
- Perhaps the most shocking story of the day came with the US men’s disqualification in the 4x100m medley relay. Breaststroker Kevin Cordes jumped the gun by 0.04 seconds ahead of Matt Grevers’ backstroke finish, and this resulted in the men having to relinquish the title to the French contingent. Though none of the splits will officially count due to the disqualification, it is noteworthy that Adrian posted a blazing fast 46.7 anchor split on the relay. Although there is much scrutiny on Cordes who jumped early in a situation that did not necessitate such a fast exchange, the US team has embraced the team nature of relay swims, as demonstrated by Nathan Adrian when he told reporters that “It’s Team USA’s fault and it falls on all our shoulders”. Cordes is still only 19 years old, and we can hope that he uses this mishap as motivation over the next few years as he continues to develop into one of the finest breaststrokers in the world.
New 15/16 NAG Record in the 50 meter Freestyle: Simone Manuel (24.80)
Jessica Hardy Ties American Record in the 50 meter breaststroke at 29.80.