Beijing-I'm starting to fear that some of the swimmers are having as hard a time as I am trying to figure out what day it is, whether it is morning or night, and just when is the heat, semi, and final in an event. World and Olympic records are dropping in the heats and semis, only to see swimmers flounder in the finals. While overall the morning finals have produced some great swims, I wonder if the erratic behaviour of the swimmers will get worse as the Games continue. It can't be easy coming back for heats after the hype of morning finals. After media, warm down, massage, and food, I have no idea when these swimmers are getting any sleep. I personally am exhausted and all I have to do is watch!
Women's 200 Free Semi-Finals
Sara Isakovic (SLO) looked the strongest this morning with her 1:56.50 win in the first semi. That time is tops for tomorrow's final. Katie Hoff (USA) was second in 1:57.01, and puts her in lane 5 for the final. Jiaying Pang (CHN) was third in 1:57.34.
"It's an especially good result for morning," said Isakovic, "my best for now of my morning swims. I hope to swim something like that tomorrow morning or even a little faster. My dreams are going to come true and I am going to stand on the podium."
In the second semi, Federica Pellegrini (ITA) relaxed a bit after her World Record swim last night in heats. She finished well off her best in 1:57.23. After a 1:55.45 last night, she doesn't seem to be going in the right direction. Her 400 was the same, a near World Record in heats, then 4th in the final. Hopefully she will get her 200 together for tomorrow morning.
Defending Olympic Champion, Camelia Potec (ROM) was second in her semi with a 1:57.71 followed by Commonwealth Champ Caitlin McClatchey (GBR) in 1:57.73.
Men's 200 Free Final
As he surfaced he was head and shoulders ahead of the field. As a gasp went up from the crowd it was clear that Michael Phelps (USA) was not messing around. He was out hard and under World Record pace, making it look like an age-group meet, not the Olympic final. His time of 1:42.96 lowered the World Record from last year and really, the only thing to compare him to is himself, so here goes:
Phelps '08: 24.31, 50.29 (25.98), 1:16.84 (26.55), 1:42.96 (26.12)
Phelps '07: 24.47, 51.00, (26.53), 1:17.73 (26.73), 1:43.86 (26.13)
These next 3 golds, in this event, the 200 fly and the men's 4x200 free relay, will be Phelps' "easy" golds. His final 3 in the 100 fly, 200IM and medley relay will be his biggest challenges. "I wanted to try and get out into open water and I was in the outside lane so it was kind of difficult for me to see the others," said Phelps. "I just wanted to get out there and try to hold on. I knew Tae-Hwan was going to have a good last 50, so I tried to start as far ahead as I could in the first 100 to 150."
In for silver was 400 winner, Tae-Hwan Park (KOR) in 1:44.85, which was a second drop off his best time. Bronze went to Phelps' training partner Peter Vanderkaay (USA) in 1:45.14, also a personal best. "It was an awesome effort with my swim," said Vanderkaay, "it means a lot to win my first individual medal and on a stage like this, it is awesome."
Women's 100 Back Final
Natalie Coughlin (USA) was all business. She let the other women dominate the heats and semis, but her calm, cool, collected strategy paid off once again in gold. She won in 58.96 to defend her Olympic title and repeating from Athens, Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) won silver in 59.19. The race was Coventry's to lose; she broke the World Record in semis with a 58.77, but just looked low in the water this morning. She has raced a lot more than Coughlin so far this week, and perhaps it is taking its toll on her.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," said Coughlin. "When I first saw the time I thought they had made a mistake. It was a very fast time. When I saw the 1 by my name I thought they had made a mistake. Then I saw my name first and I realized that I'd got it!"
In for bronze was Margaret Hoelzer (USA) in 59.34 whose sprinting just keeps getting better. "I'm thrilled," said Hoelzer. "This is my first Olympic medal so I am very pleased. I think it's inspiring to watch people break records. It sets the bar higher and it’s a great pool so it's very motivating. No, I won't be celebrating tonight, I've got a race in 2 days, so I'll be going to bed and getting my rest!"
Men's 100 Back Final
Just as he did at the US Trials, Aaron Peirsol (USA) let everyone go in the heats and semis, but once again he came through with the gold and World Record in the final. Defending an Olympic Title never looked easier. His time of 52.54 lowered his best by almost another half second and he was the clear winner. "We were trying to go 1 and 2," said Peirsol of he and Matt Grevers. "It didn't matter who was 1, we just wanted to go 1 and 2. I looked up and saw Matt next to me, I was elated. Stuff like that is like a dream come true. I remember what it felt like after the 100 [in Athens]. I broke down, and that will probably happen here. It is just as wonderful as the first time." While he did not quite break down, Peirsol was visibly emotional on the podium, fighting back tears and clearly relishing the moment.
Silver went to Matt Grevers (USA) for his first individual Olympic medal. He picked up gold as a heat swimmer in the 4x100 free relay yesterday. His time of 53.11, was just off his semi swim, but a great race for this rising star. Once coached by Olympic gold medallist Lea Maurer (nee Loveless), Grevers is only just getting started.
"It's really gold after Peirsol," said Grevers. "That's how I think of it. I'm very happy with that. I raced the best I could have hoped for. Not only is it a great venue, but the pool is really deep and it's a good temperature. It's also the Olympics and you come to compete. You are not just representing yourself, but your country as well, so you push yourself harder. It's special to go 1-2, so I am very happy to accomplish that."
The first tie of the Games went to another newcomer, Hayden Stoeckel (AUS) and Arkady Vyatchanin (RUS) in 53.18. "I didn’t think I would get a medal, I just came in here to have fun, so I'm happy," said Stoeckel. "Records are always going to happen, the new suits play a little part, but it comes down to hard training and we all want to win. Records are made to be broken. I'm really looking forward to the 200 back now."
Women's 100 Breast Final
In 2004 Leisel Jones (AUS) was third in this event. In 2000 she won silver. In 2008, she left nothing to doubt, winning by over 1 and a half seconds and a new Olympic Record of 1:05.17. Out under World Record pace in 30.63, she led from start to finish. "I'm really excited," said Jones. "Going out there, there was a fair bit of pressure. I haven't lost the 100 breast in 4 years, and after Athens I learned to handle the pressure differently, so I'm really excited."
From 4th at the US Olympic Trials to an Olympic silver medal, Rebecca Soni (USA) turned the tragedy of others into Olympic hardware with her 1:06.73. Bronze went to Mirna Jukic (AUT) whose fast finish got her to the wall in 1:07.34. "I don't even know how I feel yet," said Soni, "it's still registering. Who could have asked for more?"
After Trials winner Jessica Hardy withdrew after a positive drug test, it was too late to add 3rd place swimmer Tara Kirk to the US Olympic Team, so Soni got the nod. Soni certainly stepped up and deserves this medal, however it is a tragedy that Kirk wasn't given the same opportunity to race. Reports over the last days in the US media have stated that the testing lab is to blame for taking so long to test Hardy's "B" sample. I hope the person who mislabeled that package can sleep tonight.
Men's 200 Fly Semi-Finals
Laszlo Cseh (HUN) has the longest stroke of the field. His almost dive-like fly with a straight arm pull is very different than Phelps' low recovery. Leading through the 150, Cseh was overtaken by Takeshi Matsuda (JPN) who won the first semi in 1:54.02. Nikolay Skvortsov (RUS) also passed him, touching in 1:54.31 to Cseh's 1:54.35.
Phelps was back just 15 minutes after his medal ceremony for the 200 free to clock the same time he did in the heat: 1:53.70. Several years ago his coach Bob Bowman said Phelps would be under 1:50 in this event. While I don't think he will be there tomorrow, a 1:50 is highly possible. The way he lays off that race until the final 50 is beautiful to watch. A far cry from the vast majority of 200 fly races one sees where there are a lot of pianos falling.
Second in Phelps' semi was Wu Peng (CHN) in 1:54.93. It took a 1:55.35 to qualify, which meant Gil Stovall (USA) at 1:55.36 is the first alternate. In 2004 Tom Malchow (USA) was the 8th qualifier with a 1:57.48 and in the final, bronze medalist Steve Parry (GBR) (who is here in Beijing as a BBC radio reporter) went a 1:55.52. The Phelps effect is in full force.
Women's 200 IM Semi-Finals
Hoff was back, as was Coventry to swim the first semi. Both women have tough schedules and so far neither have won gold. But don’t count either woman out just yet. They are amazing swimmers and after Coventry's race this morning, she is the favourite. Her 2:09.53 win was a new Olympic Record and just half a second off Stephanie Rice's World Record set at Aussie Trials. Rice was second in the semi with a 2:10.58, while Hoff was third in 2:10.90.
The second semi was slower and tighter, Coughlin was hard through the 150 and backed off again on the free leg. Her time of 2:11.84 was slower than heats. Julia Wilkinson (CAN) dropped more time for another Canadian Record of 2:12.03 and a spot in the final. She is tied for 5th. There was another tie for 8th, so those women will have to swim off in 20 minutes.
"It feels amazing," said Wilkinson after making her first Olympic final. "I'm so excited right now. I tried to go into that race not thinking about the outcome, but thinking about racing. I wanted to focus on my back leg. I think I have another half a second in me so, 'Yeah!'"