Beijing-While the rivalry between Kitajima and Hansen fades into oblivion, the men's 100 free saga with Bernard the Olympic victor and Sullivan the World Record holder heats up. For Bernard, it was redemption after losing the 4x100 relay, for Sullivan the race will feed many workout session for the next 4 years.
Men's 200 Breast Final
This one was Kosuke Kitajima's (JPN) to lose. He is the defending Olympic Champion, World Record holder and already defended his 100 breast crown this week. It came as no surprise that Kitajima led from start to finish, winning in a new Olympic Record in 2:07.64, just off his best from June.
"I'm so relieved. I'm glad I won this race. I thought I was going to improve my time more, but I guess that to win this race is more important than to set a good time," said Kitajima.
Given the gold medal favourite, most were watching the battles for silver and bronze, which were up for grabs. Out in lane 8, Hughes Duboscq (FRA) got out strong, followed by Brenton Rickard (AUS) and Mike Brown (CAN). Brown won silver in this event at the '05 Worlds, Rickard silver at the '07 Worlds, while Duboscq is the bronze medallist from the 100 in '04 and '08.
Duboscq kept at it through the 175 with Rickard and Brown pushing hard. Rickard got the touch over Duboscq and Brown was blocked from the podium. Their times:
"Obviously 4 years ago was a disappointment," said Rickard who missed making the Aussie team in '04, "but I stuck with it for a long time and I was able to swim and come back 4 years later to get a silver medal."
Duboscq now has 3 Olympic bronze medals in 2 Olympics. "I have succeeded at these Olympic Games, because I have already got 2 medals," said Duboscq. "It is amazing. It's a magnificent satisfaction. I am in top form, I prepared well and I came back after 'crossing the desert.'"
Women's 100 Free Semi-Finals
There was the first real drama in the pool this morning; shut out of the finals in 2004, Libby Trickett (AUS) had a bit of luck on her side this time round. She finished 9th with a 54.10, but moved into the final when top seed Jiaying Pang (CHN) was DQ'ed for a false start. Pang moved slightly on the start, visible on the replay. Her time of 53.49 would have been the 5th fastest of all time.
Trickett is the World Record holder by a mile. She posted a 52.88 at Aussie Trials in March, but no other woman has been under 53. "I probably would have liked to have gone a bit faster than that. It felt really comfortable so hopefully I can be good for tomorrow and bring something else out," said Trickett.
Natalie Coughlin (USA) now looks the favourite, she easily won the first heat in 53.70 with a great underwater dolphin on the start and turn that put her almost a full body length ahead by the 65 metre mark. "It was really fortunate to be in the first heat with Britta and Libby and have such a good heat to judge myself off of," said Coughlin. "And winning it, I should make finals for tomorrow so I'm in a perfect position." Second in her heat, Yingwen Zhu (CHN) in 53.84 and former World Record holder Britta Steffen (GER) in 53.96.
In the second semi, it was Marleen Veldhuis (NED) in after Pang at 53.81, then Hanna-Marie Seppala (FIN) in 53.84 and Francesca Halsall (GBR) in 53.94. Velhduis won silver in this event at the '07 Worlds, Seppala won gold at Worlds in '03, while Halsall 's international career is just beginning. She won bronze in this event at short course Worlds earlier this year.
Men's 200 Back Semi-Finals
This final will be a great one, with the American co-World Record holders battling it out. Last year, Ryan Lochte (USA) beat Aaron Peirsol (USA) to win Worlds. On route he broke Peirsol's World Record. At US Trials in July, Peirsol beat Lochte and tied the mark that Lochte set in Melbourne. The 2 men both have what it takes to win; it could be one of the closest races here in Beijing.
Peirsol won the first semi in 1:55.26, while Lochte won the second in 1:55.40. "It's about as good as I wanted to go," said Peirsol. "If I went any faster, I probably would have to get drug tested! It was a nice controlled swim. It was pretty much the perfect morning swim.
Women's 200 Fly Finals
With Phelpsian-like strength, Zige Liu (CHN) powered through the final turn, passing World Record holder Jessicah Schipper (AUS) and storming to a new World Record to win China's first gold here in the pool. Her time of 2:04.18 was over a second under Schipper's best. In for silver, was countrywoman Liuyang Jiao (CHN) in 2:04.72, with Schipper hanging on for bronze in 2:06.26. Defending Olympic Champ, Otylia Jedrzejczak (POL) finished 4th in 2:07.02.
Liu's progression is huge. Her countrywoman Jiao says, "She has improved a lot in the last year. She started swimming earlier than me, but then she had a break for a while." Just last year Liu was ranked 22 in the World. No other gold medallist from this morning's final was ranked out of the top 2 from last year. Here are her best times over the last 3 years:
2008: 2:04.18 (2:07.76 at China trials in April)
However, of the top 10 performers all-time in this event, 3 women are still on the list from 1981, 2000, and 2000, so it is certainly an event that the world's women have not perfected. "I didn't expect that I could swim so fast, and I was so surprised to win the gold in the World Record time," said Liu. "I have never imagined that I could win the gold in the Olympic Games."
"I'm really happy," said Schipper. "I came here to win an individual medal and now I'm going home with 2. Now I can relax for the rest of the week."
Men's 100 Free Finals
Alain Bernard (FRA) and Eamon Sullivan (AUS) were stroke for stroke all the way to the wall in the hottest event of the Games. The 2 men have traded World Records back and forth all season, and while Sullivan can claim the record, it is Bernard who goes home with the gold.
"I can't believe it!" said Bernard. "I know I was feeling down after the relay, but I didn't want to get beaten. I have been working for years and years….I didn't panic during the race. When I looked at the board I just thought, 'Wow, I did it!' It's a great joy to be here, now I wanted to enjoy the moment."
Touching in 47.21 to Sullivan's 47.32, Bernard's win could only be measured by the clock. "I'm very happy I performed so well in my first Olympic final," said Sullivan. "Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough for the day. To bounce back after the relay takes a lot of guts, full credit to Alain, he was the better man on the day."
Jason Lezak (USA) finally turned his relay prowess into individual hardware. He tied for the bronze with Cesar Cielo Filho (BRA) in 47.67. "It felt good," said Lezak. "I definitely wasn’t going to make the same mistake I made 4 years ago where I took the preliminaries too easy. It's been eating at me for a long time, so to go out and accomplish a medal is really exciting. It doesn't top the relay medal, but it's something I've been pushing for years."
Women's 200 Breast Semi-Finals
World Record holder Leisel Jones (AUS) won the first semi in 2:23.04, while Rebecca Soni (USA) won her semi in 2:22.64. While Jones' best is 2:20.54, this will be a tight race tomorrow night. "It puts me in a better frame of mind," said Soni on being the best breaststroker in America. "It means I never ease off and I keep having to be stronger. [This race] gave me a lot of confidence. This isn't even my best event."
Annamay Pierse (CAN) lowered her Canadian Record with a great swim of 2:23.94 to qualify for the final. "I'm here to do my job. Medals are great, but I realize I've got to go out there and do my race and do what I have to do: to get my race better and to get my swim as fast as I can," said Pierse. "I'm just not trying to push too much and if I can keep anything back I will. I didn’t want to put it all out there so I could have something left for tomorrow."
Men's 200IM Semi-Finals
Michael Phelps (USA) was back after a busy day yesterday, he only had 1 swim this morning. His 1:57.70 looked easy as did the win by Ryan Lochte (USA) in the second semi with a 1:57.69. Both men backed off on the free leg and tomorrow will be a great race. Lochte is the closest swimmer in the world to Phelps, but he has a very tough double with the 200 back first. "I just get ready for one race," said Lochte. "The most important thing is being able to separate [the two] and I knew I'd make the final so I didn’t try hard, didn’t go out at all. I'm going to have to do better tomorrow." Lochte was fighting a stomach virus earlier in the week, but is better now. "I feel pretty good, I feel a lot better than last night. I had 24 hours to recover but I feel good."
Women's 4x200 Free Finals
While most predicted a battle between USA and France, it was the Aussie women who stole the show. Double IM gold medallist Stephanie Rice led them out first in 1:56.60, with Bronte Barratt second in 1:56.58. Kylie Palmer had the best split of the team with a 1:55.22 and Linda Mackenzie anchored in 1:55.91 for a new World Record and Olympic gold medal. Their time of 7:44.31 took almost 6 seconds off the World Record set by the US last year in Melbourne.
China was also a surprise to win silver. Their time of 7:45.93 was 8 seconds faster than their heat swim. Anchorwoman Jiaying Pang, who was DQ'ed in her 100 free semi earlier tonight, posted the fastest split of the day with a 1:54.39.
USA broke an American Record, but their quartet did not swim up to expectations; Natalie Coughlin and Allison Schmitt were off their mark, while Caroline Burckle and Katie Hoff swam well. Unfortunately Hoff's anchor leg of 1:54.73 was not enough to beat China, so US settles for bronze.