Beijing-Heats are fast, often faster than semis or even finals. Perhaps the night format is the reason, but one thing is certain, the swimming is good. The men's 100 has improved dramatically since the last Olympic Games and the World Record holder says more racing is the real reason behind such fast times, not the suit. There are probably a dozen reasons being bandied about because the question is asked of every swimmer in every press conference.
Instead of adding to the chorus, I'm happy to just sit back and enjoy the show. I remember seeing my first World Record live. It was Tamas Darnyi in the 400IM at '91 World Champs. I was 15, but 17 years later, and probably close to a 100 World Records later, seeing one still sends goose-bumps up my arms and an extra few beats in my heart. I will never stop loving that.
Men's 100 Free
Forty-one men were under 50 seconds tonight. Twenty-two were under 49 and 5 were under 48. Way back in Athens, which is starting to feel like ancient history, only 24 men were under 50, and 3 under 49 after the heats. Pieter van den Hoogenband won gold in 48.17. That time will probably not be fast enough to make the final here in Beijing.
It is certainly a new world of men's sprinting. Eamon Sullivan (AUS), who broke the World Record yesterday leading out the men's 4x100 free relay, attributed it to a lot more racing. "I have never seen so many guys racing each other so often…you have to find something special to beat them each time." When asked if he thought the suit was a factor he replied, "It's not the suit; it just makes you feel better in the water, and sprinting is a lot about feel. If you feel confident you can do great things."
Today, Sullivan won his heat with his windmill like stroke, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Klim, in 47.80, just ahead of Stefan Nystrand (SWE) in 47.83. Brent Hayden (CAN) who is the reigning co-world champ with Filippo Magnini (ITA) dominated his heat, winning in 47.84. Magnini was well back at 48.30.
"I'm pleased with my time," said Hayden. "A couple of technical things went wrong. It is only the preliminaries, so it's only going to get a whole lot faster on in the finals. It's going to take what the World Record is around now to get on the podium."
Alain Bernard (FRA) won his heat in 47.84, looking much better than the man who took him down, Jason Lezak (USA) who sits in 11th spot at 48.33. While Lezak split a 46.06 to anchor the relay, he said yesterday, "You can't always translate relay times to individual races." Hopefully Lezak's now legendary swim will finally release him to translate a 46.06 into the individual final that has eluded him for so long.
"It was hard after losing the race yesterday," said Bernard. "But afterwards, I realized that I am happy with the silver medal. I have no regrets…Not everyone leaves the Games with a silver medal around their neck."
Women's 200 Fly
Sara Isakovic (SLO) scratched to ready herself for tomorrow morning's 200 free final, leaving the way open in the first seeded heat for crowd favourite Zige Liu (CHN) for victory in her best time of 2:06.56. Right behind her was Yuko Nakanishi (JPN) in 2:06.62 and her teammate Natsumi Hoshi (JPN) in 2:07.02.
World Record holder Jessicah Schipper (AUS) looked off this morning, finishing her heat in 4th spot with a 2:08.11 and 11th overall. "It has been 2 years since I've done a PB. To do a PB is what we train for," said Schipper. "I'm definitely going to go in there and try and get a PB."
High-schooler Kathleen Hersey (USA) won the heat in 2:07.65. Audrey Lacroix (CAN) was 5th in 2:08.54, good enough for a spot in tomorrow's semi. Aurore Mongel (FRA) won the final heat in 2:06.49, while race favourite Otylia Jedrzejczak (POL) was third in 2:06.91. "I'm smiling as soon as I get in the pool," said Mongel. "It's a real delight to swim and smiling helps me succeed…[it] is my strength. It's much more pleasant to start a race with a smile, whatever the result in the end. I think winning a medal would make my smile even bigger!"
It took a 2:09.41 to make top 16. Back in '04 Jedrzejczak was the top qualifier in the morning with a 2:09.64.
Men's 200 Breast
Two Olympic Records fell in the first and final seeded heats. First up was Paolo Bossini (ITA) in 2:08.98, then Daniel Gyurta (HUN) in 2:08.68, beating out defending champ Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) in the process. Kitajima is coming off a fantastic win in the 100, but he was 4th in his heat with a 2:09.89.
In the middle heat, Mike Brown (CAN) broke through with a 2:09.84, which is over a 1 second drop off the Canadian Record. "The 2:10 barrier has been a huge one for me to break," said Brown. "I actually have on my cell phone, '2:09 no problem.' It's nice to be able to have that now. It's pretty cool to be able to say I've done that."
In for 2nd was Eric Shanteau (USA) who was diagnosed with cancer just weeks before the US Olympic Trials. Shanteau postponed treatment not thinking he would make the Olympic Team, when he did, he sat down with doctors to re-evaluate. He was in strong enough health to postpone things again until after his Olympic debut. His time of 2:10.29 is just shy of his time from Trials. "You hype [the Olympics] up so much in your head, then when you get there you realize it's just another meet and you have to do exactly the same things you always do," said Shanteau. "But that's the dream right there. I just had it come true and I think there's a lot more to come. I feel great. Physically, I feel really good. It's a dream come true just to be competing."
The US men will retain 1 of 4 from the heats just as they did in the 4x100. The 4 who swam tonight were racing for 1 open spot, resulting in a new Olympic Record of 7:04.66. The World Record is 7:03.24, but watch that fall tomorrow, and my prediction: a sub 7 minute win by the Americans who sub in Phelps, Lochte and Vanderkaay!
The battle for silver and bronze will be fantastic. Five teams have real shots at the medals: Italy sits at 7:07.84, Russia at 7:07.86, Britain at 7:07.89, Canada at 7:08.04 and Australia at 7:08.41. Canada rested their 2 best: Hayden and Collin Russell, while the other 5 teams might only have 1 guy to switch. As I said, it will be fantastic!
Top splits of the heats: Jean Basson (RSA) lead out of 1:45.99, Ricky Berens (USA) 1:45.47 to Klete Keller (USA) 1:45.51, Marco Belotti (ITA) 1:45.82 and Alexander Sukhorukov (RUS) 1:45.24.