Day 2-Finals: 2 World Records for Phelps and Rice
Beijing-POTUS has landed and with the haze still present, any morning bugs were certainly all shook out as Phelps and Rice made their debuts in World Record times.
Despite President Bush's attendance, the crowd is rather dull. While a quick roar goes up as a Chinese swimmer heads to the wall and there was a little yell for Grant Hackett, the electricity running up my arms over this morning's World Records came from my love and appreciation, not the crowd's energy. There was a little more intensity for the relay, as is always the case, but a crash course in screaming might be in order.
Men's 400IM Final
In what might be his last 400IM ever, Michael Phelps (USA) destroyed the field on the back half, coming off the 250 wall with incredible power and never looking back. He dropped another second and a half off the World Record for a 4:03.84 to win the opening gold of the 2008 Olympic Games.
"I told Bob that this would be my last 400IM, so I've got to go out there and get a good time. And this was a good time. Afterwards I looked up and saw President Bush giving me a 'thumbs up' and holding up the American flag. That was pretty cool." Indeed.
Ryan Lochte (USA) looked good heading down on the back and breast legs, but his turns at the far end looked labored and every inch he gained on Phelps was taken back off the far walls. In and out of the 300, Laszlo Cseh (HUN) reeled in Lochte before passing him on the final length to win silver in a personal best of 4:06.16. Lochte was off his best in 4:08.09. Cseh's swim breaks the US sweep of this event over the last 3 Olympic Games.
"I guess you can say I went out too fast," said Lochte afterwards. "I knew I had to get out fast, but the backstroke took a lot out of me. But I did my best, I can't ask for anything more."
As Phelps received his medal tonight it looked as if it was his first time up on the podium. His eyes glistened throughout the anthem, a reminder that no matter if it's your first or 7th Olympic gold medal, the occasion is truly extraordinary. However, organizers should take note, if the anthem is cut short by the last line while the President is in the house, that's a problem you need fixed before Phelps' next victory.
Women's 100 Fly Semi-Final
In the first semi-final, Libby Trickett (AUS) left nothing to chance, taking it out from lane 7 in 26.58. Hot on her heels was Christine Magnuson (USA) who charged down the second lap right with Trickett who got the touch in 57.05 to Magnuson's 57.08, which is a new American Record. Magnuson's time breaks the old best set by Natalie Coughlin (USA) of 57.34 from last year's World Champs. This sets up an interesting challenge for the US coaches; just what the 4x100 medley relay will look like should unfold as the Games continue.
"I felt a lot better than yesterday," said Magnuson. "I stayed a lot smoother and rode my stroke a lot more. It definitely felt good." As for swimming in lane 4 right after Phelps? "Clearly he warmed it up for me," she said jokingly. "That's all I can say!"
In the second semi, China's own Yafei Zhou (CHN) took it out first, but Jessicah Schipper (AUS) stole the crowd's thunder by touching first in 57.43 to Zhou's 57.68. "Making it into the final was the only thing I was after, so I've achieved that," said Schippper. "I went faster than last night and that's always a good sign. I definitely prefer to swim semifinals and finals at night, but we have to deal with what we're given."
Men's 400 Free Final
Reminiscent of Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett (AUS) donned the full body and arm Speedo LZR, unfortunately it was not enough. But the race was an affirmation of the changing of the guard as the reigning World Champ, Tae-Hwan Park (KOR) stole the show. Taking the lead from the first 100, Park looked untouchable, swimming with an even better stroke than Hackett at his peak. Park's time of 3:41.86 is shadowed only by Thorpe's 3:40.08 from Commonwealths in 2002.
A man of humble words (or perhaps just awkward translation), Park said, "It is a good result, and thanks for the support of our people. I have tried my best. I didn't have any specific strategy. I think at first I shouldn't lag behind the other swimmers too much, so I could keep pace with the others. It is an honour to compete with other swimmers here, it is also an honour for me to gain the medal in the Olympic Games. I am content with my results."
In for silver, and China's first ever Olympic medal for men, was fast finishing Lin Zhang (CHN). Zhang, who trains with Hackett's former coach Denis Cotterell on the Australian Gold Coast, lowered his personal best again to 3:42.44. After the race he said "[Denis] is very experienced. We've formed the team for less than 6 months and we've beaten top swimmers in the world. I couldn't have imagined it." Zhang was no match for Larsen Jensen (USA) who picked up bronze in 3:42.78, a new American record and personal best.
"I probably could have gone out a little faster," said Jensen. "I saw the Chinese guy next to me and I just buried my head. I was hoping for gold, everyone in that race was. I gave it everything I had. It is an honour and privilege to be here, especially to swim in front of the President." After seeing him on the TV in the ready room, Jensen said to himself, "The President is watching, it's time to step it up."
Hackett faded to 6th spot with a 3:43.84, while Peter Vanderkaay (USA,) caught out on the far side of the pool, was at his best, but finished 4th in 3:43.11. Ous Mellouli (TUN) who won bronze in this event at the 2005 World Champs, was one of several top 400IMers who had to chose between the IM and free events. He finished 5th. Phelps, Lochte, and Eric Vendt were also forced to chose in what seems like bad scheduling to say the least.
Women's 400IM Final
This was always going to be a unique race with Stephanie Rice (AUS) and Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) taking it out fast and Katie Hoff (USA) and Elizabeth Beisel (USA) bringing it home. But no one would have guessed that Rice could actually bring it home too. Out 3 and 1/2 seconds under World Record pace at the 200, Rice and Coventry in outside lanes were almost 2 bodylengths ahead of the Americans. While Hoff and Beisel closed the gap slightly on the breast leg, they were too far out of touch to catch them.
In for gold and a new World Record was Rice, whose 4:29.45 makes her the first woman under 4:30. Coventry followed for silver in 4:29.89. Gutsy, brilliant swims by both women. Hoff was third and only just off her best and old World Record from US Trials in 4:31.71 while Beisel finished 4th in 4:34.24.
"I turned around and I thought I saw a 4:31," said Rice after her win. "I thought, that really hurt for a 4:31. I was stoked when it turned over! It's an amazing achievement, it hasn't kicked in yet." Coventry was also amazed by the sub 4:30 swim. "I'm just so excited about the time. Steph was just a little bit better, but it's exciting to be on the podium and to be under the old World Record, that just tops it off."
Men's 100 Breast Semi-Final
In the second semi-final, Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) just missed the World Record, but lowered his Olympic Record to a blistering 59.16, just 3 one hundredths off Brendan Hansen's(USA) best set in 2006. After a sluggish swim last night, Hansen looked much more relaxed and strong in the water. He was third in 59.94 with Hughes Duboscq (FRA) second in 59.83.
In the first semi, Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) cruised to the win in 59.55 with Brenton Rickard (AUS) in second at 59.65.
Women's 4x100 Free
This truly shows the depth of women's sprinting has never been better. With the Netherlands beating out powerhouses USA and Australia to win gold, it was reminiscent of the South African men's win in Athens. The Dutch quartet were just over the World Record they set in March, but at 3:33.76, they took 2 seconds off the Olympic record set by the Aussies in 2004. Marleen Veldhuis anchored in 52.58, while Libby Trickett (AUS) had the fastest split with a 52.34 anchor leg.
The Americans had strong swims and set a new American record for silver in 3:34.33 with Dara Torres anchoring in the second fastest split of the event in 52.44. She now has 10 Olympic medals including 2 silvers.
The Canadians were 8th, but lowered their national record from the heats to a 3:38.32. Victoria Poon did not swim due to illness, but all 4 swimmers were solid at 54. China was just off their national record finishing 4th in 3:36.85 with an anchor leg by Jiaying Pang of 52.69, setting up a pretty fast women's 100 free final.