Fun

Going Viral

Correspondence 1

Dear Madam President;

It is our great pleasure here at the National Science Lab to announce the creation of the single greatest tool to combat infectious disease. No more must our species be savaged by diseases imparted by single-cellular organisms. While it is well known that all living things are contained within cells, the mechanisms of life can be separated. One such mechanism is protein synthesis – by putting the code for phagic proteins and a protective capsule into a discrete package we can deliver these non-cellular devices to bacteria to destroy them. These ‘bacteriophages’ will be the most powerful tool to fight disease ever created. We ask for an extension of funding to create a release and  distribution system for this great device. Attached is all of our data and experimental logs for your consideration.

Respectfully,

Disease Defense Lab
National Science Lab


Correspondence 2

To the incredible scientists working at the DDL;

My heartfelt and sincerest congratulations for your amazing discovery and development. I have issued you an extension of funding personally to continue your ground-breaking work. Our chief scientific advisors here in the capitol are very excited by your work. We encourage you to continue developing this product. However, the consensus of the advisory board here recommends that you propose a trial for a closed environment to ‘release and distribute’ these bacteriophages to fully examine the effects of such a dramatic new tool. Again, you have my highest admiration and I wish you the best in your continued research.

Looking forward to updates!

President N


Correspondence 3

President N,

Thank you for your funding and your support! We have been able to further enhance the bacteriophages we have developed here. They can now penetrate thicker capsules and protective barriers on many small cells. Furthermore, we have developed a limited replication strategy so that we need only introduce a small number of bacteriophages and they will assemble more from within the dying cell to address adjacent cells. We have done a great deal of testing to show that the bacteriophages can specifically and potently kill these infectious cells, but cannot harm our cells, or those of organisms similar to us. The best feature of these devices is that since they are not alive they cannot evolve and there is no danger to our population. As such, we have already treated a nearby community with these phages and seen a tremendous reduction in disease. We have attached the epidemiological data we’ve collected, as well as the patient data. We can have custom bacteriophages delivered anywhere in the world to treat any and all diseases!

Enthusiastically,

The Disease Defense Lab


Correspondence 4

To the DDL Scientists;

The data you’ve attached is very compelling – it appears there is total clearance of the pathological cells in this population! Our experts are stunned. They wonder, as do I, what has become of the bacteriophages you’ve introduced? We request that you suspend introduction of these devices into the community at large, and possibly contain the initial patients such that they can be fully examined. For your offer, there are attached several orders for new bacteriophages. We would like you to develop these and then run them through a contained testing protocol before distribution. We are unsure about the behavior of such a device in the environment since it is organic in nature, and we would like to collect data. Once appropriate safety testing is complete we will recommend the public release of more devices.

Continued good luck!

President N


Correspondence 5

Madam President;

We have completed the design and shipment of the orders attached, and with highest confidence we can say these devices are entirely safe. Since these devices are organic they will break down naturally into their simplest pieces. Therefore, we have recommended that the buyers might begin distributing the bacteriophages to end the suffering in the populations who need them! While we don’t see the need, we’ve sent letters to all the patients in our initial treatment group. They have not come in for testing yet, but we imagine they are now in the clutches of a disease-free life and may not respond to our correspondence. Broadcast shows have asked if taking bacteriophages may prevent the later incidence of disease, and we believe this may be the case. We will begin a study soon to determine if taking a daily dose of bacteriophage might not be the fountain of youth itself! We have no new data attached, but we have the financial statements from the phage orders. Thank you for their contact information!

Enthusiastically!

The DDL


Correspondence 6

ATTN DDL Scientists;

While we wholly believe that this device you have created is the most promising in our lifetime, we must ask that you discontinue releasing it. Furthermore, we must ask that you follow up with all your patients and have them report to a hospital for testing. One vendor has asked for your anti-phagic to reverse the bacteriophage activity, and we have received reports that some areas which have  received phage, despite initial success, have been exposed to a possible adverse event. We understand these hiccups will always occur in the development of great technologies, however we worry that this device has a very powerful mechanism and wish to understand it better.

President N


Correspondence 9

Madam President;

We now see that some of the patients did have a negative reaction some time after phage introduction. We have studied the phage and determined why this may be happening, and we can treat the surviving patients. We have sent anti-phagic to those who have ordered our device and they should control the side-effects of which you’ve heard. We agree this is a minor hiccup and we are enthusiastic to continue development.

Best,

The DDL


Correspondence 10

DDL

I have received word that your anti-phagics are not working. The tally of those who have died from your phagic treatment is rising. I demand that you collect all the phages you have released and keep them confined to your lab. We will mandate experiments that we will require before you may release them again. Please respond ASAP as you complete this.

President N


Correspondence 11

President N;

In the history of our world from it’s formation 5 million years ago, to the first known life 100,000 years ago, we have never observed any non-cellular thing display evolution. Therefore we are stunned to report that these phages have adapted to survive our anti-phagic treatment; further the bacteriophage had itself developed pathogenic activity. We are trying to develop new treatments now. As for the collection of our phages, we had assumed the phage would not be stable in the outside world, but the spread of this ‘phagic fever’ has shown that this too is incorrect. We have our best scientists developing a new phage which might be strong enough to deactivate the bacteriophage: a phagophage of sorts. We will report back shortly.

DDL


Correspondence 12

DDL

Suspend all experiments and further developments. The fever has a 50-day mortality rate of 98%. We have no choice but to isolate these communities and wait for the phages to die. Once this containment is complete you will be held responsible for this.


Correspondence 13

DDL

Your failure to respond is considered treasonous, although you’ve already sealed your fate by developing this non-cellular device which can defeat almost any cell and cellular-based organism! So many have died.


Correspondence 14

DDL

Perhaps my last missives were not delivered as I hear the phagic disease has ravaged your region. I write this in vain I’m certain. Since all life is now compromised we are directing the global space program Galactonauts to settle one of our seed planets. We believe Gal529.MW, Sys4.S, P3.Terra is the best option. After the galactic seeding program which potential life-bearing locations, we noticed a dramatic change in the absorbance of the planet which may be indicative of atmospheric development. Our Galactonauts are presumably the only uninfected members of our species due to the isolation training – I pray nothing contaminated reached them. We can only hope that the inclusion of these missives on their log will serve as a warning to the new settlement. Surely they will struggle, and we will never know if they survive. Likewise, until they can construct the appropriate equipment they will never be able to contact us. We will keep our transmission beacon on and try to monitor their settlement if we as a species can somehow survive. I just hope that the collective knowledge of our species will not be lost forever upon their arrival.  Should you ever receive this letter, I will not be accepting further mail as I will be spending my final days with family.

With despair,

N

 

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Science

Ignoring Proper Channels: The Fun Side of Fluoride

When Professor Chris Miller began his address to the less than capacity crowd in the Caspary Auditorium at Rockefeller University I couldn’t help noticing this felt underwhelming. This same auditorium has seen talks by countless Noble Laureates, at which times the room has suffered from such sever overcrowding that the lectures were halted until people were removed.

Now, an older gentleman looked out on the modest crowd with bright eyes and explained he would be talking about an ion channel (a designated avenue to move a specific element in or out of a cell) that allowed the passage of fluoride (a largely ignored element in biology) in bacteria, plants, protists, and simple invertebrates (all the types of life that have the least in common with human cells). This lecture had all the makings of an arcane and esoteric ramble in an uninteresting and unimportant field of biology.

But Dr. Miller is as much a showman as he is a world-renown scientist, and for the next forty-five minutes he proceeded to engage and enlighten the audience, proving why his lab has a tendency to produce legions of excellent researchers and teachers. Fluoride, Dr. Miller contends, has never gotten it’s time in the sun. Overshadowed by the heavier and more notorious chloride ion, fluoride is present everywhere in amounts as high as 100 micromolar (just under 1 part per million), and it is a known inhibitor of several essential cellular processes, namely metabolism and reproduction; or as Miller said, “it blocks food and sex.”

fluoride

Fluoride

Because of the chemistry of the cell, fluoride can enter a cell by permeating the membrane in the form of hydrogen-fluoride. Once it enters the cell, the hydrogen is stolen away and the potentially toxic fluoride is left to its own devices. Luckily, as Miller discovered, these cells have exhaust valves for fluoride – specific channels made of protein acting like pores to release the fluoride out of the cell. Channels allow passive movement (requiring no energy) where transporters are proteins that actively move ions (requiring energy). Dr. Miller’s channels, named FLUCs, (pronounced “flukes”) regulate the internal fluoride concentrations and effectively save the cells.

This in-and-of itself is a great finding; however Dr. Miller was taken by certain oddities about this channel. For the remainder of the lecture, Miller painted a beautiful picture of how this weird channel defied convention in numerous ways – it was incredibly specific; it works very fast; it has an “antiparallel” architecture, in which the two subunits are identical but the interact with each other when rotated 180 degrees; the ‘channel’ actually has four internal pores! Each of these findings is interesting to a hard-core physiologist or biophysicist. Dr. Miller managed to make each impressive to an even broader audience.

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Chris Miller PhD is a professor at Brandeis and has trained a generation of biologists.

In a talk peppered with nerdy jokes (“at least in Massachusetts, we do not violate electronegativity”) acknowledging the at-times cumbersome nomenclature (“it’s not voltage-dependent, not calcium-dependent, not N-A-P-O-D-whatever dependent” – NADPH is an import substrate that stands…for something) and even prone to editorial (“this channel just sits there like a moron with it’s mouth open!”) Miller managed to jam enough fundamental cell biology in to make even the surest biologist confident they were learning something. His delivery mimicked Lewis Black, from his intonation, to his hand waving, to his occasional excoriation of some unseen foe (“‘channel, transporter, same thing’ – NO THEY’RE NOT the same thing!”)

Having studied biophysics, to me Miller did the unthinkable – he made an hour-long lecture about an ion-channel incredibly fun and informative. His approach and mentality are key – I was fortunate to speak with him after the lecture and ask him some questions and he relished in the opportunity to further discuss FLUCs, fluoride, and anything even remotely related to his research. The enthusiasm he has is true and unfettered.

Perhaps most impressive is the fact that he is able to inspire so many graduate students, post-docs, fellows and researchers to continue in this field. Many are drawn to sexier and higher-paying research targeting cancer, or heart disease. As Miller put his work, “it is completely removed from the bothersome problem of human health. That way, I can enjoy the protein for itself!”

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The actual FLUC channel as represented with protein structure software (memprotein.org). The white/grey sphere is an oddly placed central sodium ion. Weird!

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Swimming

Le Clos So Close: Olympic Swimming Recap Day 4

The sprinters kicked off the evening with the men’s 100m free. Five men broke the 48 second mark, all within two tenths of each other: Nathan Adrian led the pack, followed by Australian pair Kyle Chalmers and Cam McEvoy, then Canadian Santo Condorelli and finally Florida swimmer and Olympic rookie Caeleb Dressel. Dressel, who some feared was a “short course swimmer,” or that his skills made him poorly adapted for the Olympic size pool, has done quite well for himself. The swim in semis is .06 from his best to date, swum in the morning. Adrian enjoys a slight lead going into the final but it will be anyone’s race from the five of them.

They were followed by the queen herself, Katie Ledecky. Ledecky who full subject to Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s speed in the semis took the race out more aggressively this time. Out in 55.4, behind Australia’s Emily McKeon and right with Francesca Pelligrini, Ledecky moved away from the pack during the third 50 – but Sjostrom was following. They closed with the same exact split (58.30 vs 58.32), considerably faster than the field, and with 15m to go it looked like Sjostrom’s incredible closing speed was going to carry her right past Ledecky; and then it happened. Ledecky saw Sjostrom and her body position changed, she popped up in the water, her strokes took her further and she completely shifted gears. The ground Sjostrom had fought to make up was lost again and Ledecky closed into the wall nearly half a second ahead, sealing up the gold. Sjostrom took silver and McKeon grabbed bronze. If Ledecky wins the 800m free, which experts and bookies agree is almost definitely the case, she will be the first woman since 1968 to win 200, 400, and 800 (the first year women swam the 200 and 800 at the Olympics). Meyer, as a side note, uses the license plate 3Gold68, and was the Katie Ledecky of her day.

The men’s 200m fly which pitted some of the greatest swimmers of all time against each other was as exciting as it was billed to be. Lazslo Cseh took the race out fast, leading the pack and Michael Phelps at the 50m mark: but the Phelps was restless. Michael pushed the middle 100m hard, out-splitting the field, and putting himself in a comfortable 1-second lead with 50m to go. Fans know Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary can close a race fast, but not much attention had been given to 6th seeded Masato Sakai of Japan. While both Kenderesi and Sakai out-split Phelps, Sakai swam a blazing 29.67 to come within .04 of the winningest Olympian in history. But Phelps did what he does, despite sloppy turns and crunched strokes, and he clung on to win the gold by the most improbable of margins. Sakai took an impressive silver, Kenderesi the bronze and first of many Olympic medals likely in his career, and just out of medal contention was the impious and boisterous Chad Le Clos, the reigning Olympic Champion.

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Michael would not be caught – another gold medal for the most decorated Olympian in history, and a return to the top in his favorite event, the 200m fly.

The women then retook the pool for the 20om butterfly semi-finals. Katinka Hosszu scratched this event to focus on the finals of her 200m IM later in the evening, opening the field slightly. Australia’s Maddy Groves took the top seed in an impressive 2:05.66, followed by Spain’s Mireia Belmonte. The Chinese federation, whose swimmer’s own the Olympic and World records, have two swimmers in the top 5 as well. The Americans, however, are sitting in the 7th and 8th spots – surviving but not primed to do much on the medal stand. This event is very competitive across the world, but both Americans swam considerably faster in the morning. If the can muster a best time, they’ll be in play for some new jewelry, but the likes of Yilin Zhou and Yufei Zhang of China, and Japan’s Natsumi Hoshi are hoping to spoil that.

The men’s 200m breaststroke saw an Olympic record fall in the first hear as Japan’s Ippei Watanabe bested the US’s Josh Prenot by nearly half a second. Yasuhiro Koseki of Japan also grabbed third and broke the 2:08 mark. In the second heat, it was Great Britain’s Andrew Willis who had the top time at 2:07.7, and the US’s Kevin Cordes also broke 2:08 (2:07.99) to take the second spot, and 5th seed overall going into the final. Cordes’s stroke looked long and powerful the entire way and, as a fan I hope, it looks like he controlled his finish and cruised in to conserve energy. Watanabe has a comfortable cushion over the field, but both Prenot and Cordes have famously good endurance in the 200m breaststroke and could possibly translate that into an Olympic gold.

The final individual event of the day was the women’s 200m IM, featuring Ms Iron herself, Katinka Hosszu. Katinka was out fast in the fly, and had established her lead after a very quick backstroke leg. Siobhan Marie-O’Connor of Great Britain was hanging tight, and actually summoned the speed to catch up to the super-human Hosszu during the last 50m freestyle, but her strong finish wasn’t enough to steal gold from iron. Hosszu set the Olympic record, though she fell just short of her own world record, and took her third individual gold of the meet. Marie-O’Connor was safely in second for silver, and about 2 seconds later America’s Maya Dirado touched the wall to secure a bronze and her second Olympic medal, half a stroke ahead of US-teammate Melanie Margalis. Dirado’s 2:08.79 cements her as the 2nd fastest American ever after Olympian Ariana Kukors in this event. Hosszu’s final event, the 200m backstroke,

Men’s 4×200 Relay – US won, yay, more details to follow I’m busy…

Tomorrow we’ll see the conclusion of the men’s 100m free, women’s 200m fly, and men’s 200m breaststroke and the women’s 4×200 free relay, as well as the semifinals for the men’s 200m back featuring Gold-medalist Ryan Murphy, the women’s 100m free with the dominant Australian Campbell sisters, the men’s 200m IM with old rivals Phelps and Lochte, and the women’s 200m breast with big-talker Lilly King.

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Swimming

Don’t Be a Dope? Olympic Swimming Recap Day 3

The evening began with a semi-final pitting America’s most dominate female, Katie Ledecky, facing Sweden’s powerhouse Sarah Sjostrom in what should be the most competitive final in Ledecky’s schedule, the 200m free. Ledecky opened the race up easy but found that Sjostrom had too much closing speed to catch in the semis. Both posted impressive times, ranking top among swimmers in the world this year, but far from the record of Francesca Pelligrini, who was swimming in the same heat and finished third. Ledecky will have to find speed and take the race out quickly to hold off the powerful and persistent Sjostrom, who already has a gold medal this Olympics from the 100m fly.

Following that, Americans Conor Dwyer and Townley Haas faced off in the 200m freestyle final against the tough international field. The gamey and irreverent Chad Le Clos of South Africa took the race out with an incredible first 100, 50.36, nearly a second ahead of the field. Le Clos would succumb to the advance of China’s Sun Yang  who ultimately won, but the South African hung on for a silver medal. Conor Dwyer of the US swam the race of his life and swam a 1:45.23, missing Le Clos by .03 and picking up a bronze, ahead of Great Britain’s James Guy and Haas. This was Yang’s 2nd medal this Olympics, Dwyer’s first ever, and the first this time for Le Clos as well, who went on to swim the semi-finals of the 200 fly later in the evening.

In the 100m back final, the young American Kathleen Baker came in on top but had to worry about the dominance of Katinka Hosszu who has been absolutely on fire so far this meet. Hosszu closed hard with the fastest final 50m in the field to grab the gold in an impressive 58.45, tenths off the Olympic and World records. Baker clung on to second by the narrowest of margins, touching ahead of China’s Yang Fu and Canada’s Kylie Masse at 58.76 by a mere .01 to secure her silver medal. The Olympic Record holder and reigning champ, Emily Seebohm had a notably off race and finished at the bottom of the heat with Australian teammate Madison Wilson. Olivia Smoliga of the USA grabbed 6th.

The finals of the 100m back pitted four men of near even speed against each other in one of the best battles so far. Young gun Ryan Murphy and Olympic rookie and 31-year-old David Plummer from the US matched up with the fastest man in the world last year, Australia’s Mitch Larkin, and France’s Camille Lacourt (whose best times all span the same two tenths of a second) as well as China’s Jiayu Xu. Larkin had the race at the first wall, followed by Xu and Plummer, but Ryan Murphy fought back from 4th and became the second man to break 52 seconds, the first to do it without a tech suit, the new Olympic Record holder and the gold medalist, continuing a 20+ year streak of US backstroke dominance. Xu held on to take silver ahead of America’s Plummer who grabbed bronze.  This is the third straight Olympics in which both American men medalled in the 100m back.

The 100 breast final was clouded by a personal feud propagated by American Lilly King against once-suspended Russian Yulia Efimova. The story, which is often muddled, is the Efimova unintentionally purchased a supplement from a GNC containing banned substances while training at USC. It is almost certain she did not dope as part of a larger Russian conspiracy, as many fond of bashing East Germany would have you believe; furthermore, one of the substances detected in her sample has come on and off the banned substance list. King, the 19-year-old professed-“not fan” of doping was not shy about calling Efimova out before and after the race…which brings me to the results. Lilly King swam a hands-down out-of-this-world 100m breast. She was out fast, had strong strokes and aggressive turnover and was in control of the race from the get-go. Teammate Katie Meili was not far behind, second at the first turn, and looking technically perfect throughout – however, Efimova turned on the gas in the last 20m and chased down Meili to grab a silver. Meili, a proud Columbia University graduate and all-around awesome person, picked up the bronze.  The story here should be a new Olympic record was set and there was a great race between three swimmers approved to compete in the Olympic games. King’s 1:04.93 is tied for 7th fastest swim ever with a Rebecca Soni swim in 2010. Only world record holder Ruta Meilutyte has ever been faster, and she finished a surprising 7th with a pedestrian 1:07.32. Shin Jinglin of China grabbed 4th.

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Gold Medalist Lilly King and Bronze Medlaist Katie Meili, who bookended Yulia Efimova, were ‘competing clean’ and came up big for the USA.   (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

The men’s 200m butterfly semifinal, which did not include American Tom Shields, pitted the legend Michael Phelps against the reigning Olympic champion and general provocateur Chad Le Clos, veteran Laszlo Cseh with the second fastest time in history, Japanese star Daiya Seto, and rising star and fast-closer Tamas Kenderesi. Cseh narrowly took the first heat in a 1:55.18; the second heat was where the action was. Phelps looked controlled but a little off on his way to swimming a 1:54.12, but he was passed handily in the last 10 meters by a possessed Kenderesi. Le Clos grabbed third in the heat and fourth overall, .01 behind Cseh’s time. This framed the final nicely. Will Cseh and Le Clos drop down to the 1:52s they’re capable of, will Kenderesi overtake Phelps in his signature event and keep him from gold again, or will the king be restored to his throne?

Day three ended with another dominant swim, but not for once from Katinka Hosszu, who only had to be good enough to make top 8, since she had just crushed the 100 back and was more than likely starting to feel tired. Siobhan Marie-O’Connor of Great Britain wowed the crowd in the first heat, taking off on the butterfly leg and cementing a 1-second lead during the breaststroke to finish in a 2:07.57, a top-15 all time swim. Dirado grabbed second in the heat. In the second heat, Hosszu posted a 2:08.13, just ahead of Dirado’s time, followed by embattled Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen and American Melanie Margalis (who had touched out veteran Caitlin Leverenz at Olympic Trials in dramatic fashion to earn this swim). This race will come down to Hosszu vs Marie-O’Connor unless Dirado unleashes something amazing on the pool, but the Stanford grad is in a great position to fight for third.

On day 4, we’ll see the outcome of the women’s 200m free, the men’s 200m fly, and the women’s 200m IM, as well as the 4×200 free relay with Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, as well as semi-finals in the men’s 100m free with Nathan Adrian and Caeleb Dressel, women’s 200m fly which Hosszu is listed for as well, and men’s 200m breast.

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Swimming

Katie Ledynasty: Olympic Swimming Recap Day 2

The women’s 100 butterfly was billed to be a showdown between current world record holder Sarah Sjostrom and American mother and veteran Dana Vollmer. There were two problems with this narrative: Sarah Sjostrom would not be caught as she ran train on the heat to set a new World Record (55.48), and perhaps more significantly, Canada’s 16-year-old wunderkind Penny Oleksiak who swam a 56.46, making her the 5th fastest woman of all time and the 3rd fastest since the demise of tech-suits. Vollmer finished 3rd in 56.63.

The 200 freestyle saw two Americans move through the semi-finals to compete tomorrow night for a medal. Conor Dwyer and Townley Haas both posted 1:45s to advance; however, they will face stiff competition from Japan’s Kosuke Hagino (already sporting a gold medal this Olympic Games), world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany, and Chinese powerhouse Sun Yang.

In the women’s 100m breast semifinals the USA saw both Katie Meili and Lilly King advance to the finals. King posted a 1:05.7 to take the top spot, a time that should not hold up tomorrow. If we see drops from the competition like Russia’s Yefumova, who received word yesterday she could compete despite failing two doping tests, and Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte who stunned the world in 2012, then it will take a 1:05 low to grab gold. Katie Meili went a 1:06.5 which got her through to the final but won’t get much traction on the medal podium, so she and I are both hoping for a solid drop in the final.

The men’s 100m breaststroke final saw, if nothing else, the most excited swimmer of the evening. American Cody Miller earned a spot on the podium catching bronze behind Adam Peaty, the Brit who obliterated the World Record by half a second going 57.13. Looking at their reactions though, you might confuse who had actually won. Peaty looked thrilled, but Cody Miller could have been the happiest boy in the world for earning his first Olympic medal, a hard-won bronze! Cameron Van der Burgh of South Africa grabbed himself silver, and American Kevin Cordes, who has been consistently solid as the best American breaststroker for years, posted a solid 4th with a time he was likely disappointed with (59.22). He’ll have another crack at some hardware in the 200m breaststroke later this week.

Swimming - Olympics: Day 2

Great Britain’s Adam Peaty crushed the World Record and was feeling pretty good after his 100m bresatstroke final in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

The women’s 400m free final showcased the most dangerous swimmer in the freestyle world, Katie Ledecky, operating at her finest. Ledecky left no doubt she would smash the World record and crush the field going into this race, and that’s exactly what she did. Out well under record pace, Ledecky left the field in the dust, posting a new record almost 2 seconds below her previous best. She owns the ten fastest swims in history, and no one is close to catching her. Watching her pace and smoothness makes a swimmer jealous, and it makes me actually scared about how fast her 800m free will turn out.

In the men’s 100m back semifinal, David Plummer beat Australian standout Mitch Larkin and France’s Camille Lacourt to win the second heat; Teammate Ryan Murphy took the top seed in the first heat, swimming .01 faster. They’ll all go at it again tomorrow in the final which will likely be one of the closest races in this Olympics.

The women’s 100m back semifinals saw the sheer energy of the USA’s Kathleen Baker – up against a tough field including Iron Lady Katinka Hosszu and Yuanhui Fu of China, Baker will be truly tested. Surprisingly, favorite Emily Seebohm and American Olivia Smoliga rank 7th and 8th going into the final, so they’ll both need big swims in outside lanes to find the podium.

Finally, after teasing for hours, NBC delivered Michael Phelps in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay. Nevermind that Phelps didn’t swim the event at Olympic Trials at all, he time trialed in camps, and every knows he can add that magic touch to a relay like no one else. Not to take away from Phelps, but the US had a solid squad to begin with: rookie Olympian and short course world record holder Caeleb Dressel started things off fast with a 48.1. Phelps doubled down with a 47.1 to follow, giving the US a comfortable lead. However France had saved their best two for last, sending in the big guns with Franz Manauodou against NC State’s Ryan Held, who fittingly held on to a lead for anchor Nathan Adrian. Adrian would not be caught and the US clinched the Gold.

Monday, Murphy and Plummer fight for medals in the 100m back, King and Meili in the 100m breast, Phelps is back in the 200m fly heats and semi-finals , Ledecky will race teh semifinals 0f her most contested event this Olympics in the 200m free.

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Swimming

Iron and Gold: Olympic Swimming Day 1

Saturday saw a few key races, including the finals of the men’s and women’s 400m individual medley, men’s 400m freestyle, and women’s 4×100 free relay. Final heats were determined in the men’s 100m breast and women’s 100m fly.

To start, the men’s 400m IM is a race associated with American swimming royalty: Michael Phelps’s world record has stood for nearly a decade, with only Ryan Lochte coming anywhere close. The extremely demanding race has recently been bested by the Japanese swimmers Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto who have the fastest times since the 2012 London Olympics. American Chase Kalisz entered the meet with a newly-achieved best time three seconds slower than them. After the  morning semi-finals both Hagino and Seto had spots in the top three; Kalisz secured 2nd with a new lifetime best, just tenths behind Seto, and American Jay  Litherland also earned a second swim. The Japanese swimmers took the final out strong, playing to their strengths on the butterfly and backstroke legs. But on the breaststroke leg Kalisz made his move catching up 3 seconds to make the last 100m a dog fight between him and Japan’s Hagino who ultimately took the gold in an impressive 4:06.0. Kalisz’s breaststroke split of 1:08.1 was the fastest of the field and it propelled him into second; Litherland finished 5th.

In the men’s 400m freestyle, Conor Dwyer and Connor Jaeger managed to grab places in the final along-side feuding favorites Mac Horton of Australia, and Sun Yang of China. Dwyer held steady in the race from his position as top-seed, but the final push from Yang and Horton (each finishing in 53 seconds) and the  closing effort of Gabriele Detti of Italy kept both Dwyer and Jaeger off the medal stand at 4th and 5th respectively. Jaeger, for his part, had a strong second half as well but could not catch the top swimmers. Dwyer was just off his morning swim, a personal best of 3:43.42, while Horton won the finals in 3:41.0.

The women’s 400m IM saw some fireworks as American’s Maya Dirado and Elizabeth Beisel crossed swords with the “Iron Lady,” Katinka Hosszu. Hosszu is known for her dominating performances at mid-season meets and her mastery of all strokes in the medley. Therefore, it was singularly stunning while also not surprising that Hosszu carved up the previous world record, lowering the mark by 2 seconds, in her first Olympic event. Hosszu opened the butterfly leg up in a 1:00, and never looked back. Her dominant backstroke extended her lead over the field, and a strong breaststroke leg kept her ahead. Hosszu looked just as strong on the freestyle, though she was out-split by bronze medalist Meiriea Belmonte of Spain. Through it all, Maya DiRado managed to swim a smart and balanced race, surpassing teammate Elizabeth Beisel’s mark to become the second fastest American in history, missed the American recor of Katie Hoff by .03, and grab a Silver Medal for the USA. Beisel finished 6th in her only event this Olympics, and likely the final of her career. Hosszu’s swim was the most dominant so far this Olympics (though just wait for Ledecky to get into her longer races) and is the first of 5; for all four remaining races consider Hosszu a gold medal threat.

Hosszú Katinka

Katinka Hosszu, the shining star of Hungarian swimming, “The Iron Lady,” and the swimmer posed to win the most individual medals this Olympics started with a bang. (Barcelona, 2013)

In semi final swimming, Kevin Cordes of the US was a little off his best but is poised to fight for a medal in the 100m breast. The other American, Cody Miller, snatched second in a time of 59.05. All swimmers in the final were around a half to full second off their best times, except for one.  Great Britain’s Adam Peaty broke the World Record in the morning, swimming a 57.5, and leaving the field over a second behind. In the semi-finals he swam the second fastest time in history to cement his #1 seed. In the final the Americans will fight the likes of South Africa’s Cam van der Burgh, Japan’s Koseki Yasuhiro, and Brazil’s Franca Felipe to finish second and third, but no one in the field is anywhere near catching Peaty. Also, Peaty is likely to swim the three fastest times in history in a 36-hour period, which, I think, should be called “The Threepeaty.”

On the women’s side, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and the US’s Dana Vollmer, who have alternated owning the World Record in the 100m fly, came out as the #1 and 2 seeds heading into the final. Kelsi Worrell, who was lights-out at the US Olympic trials, looked heavy in the water and posted a weak time for her, finishing 9th and out of the final, the first American swimmer to miss. That makes Vollmer the sole American, and she hopes to drop time, reclaim her World Record from Sjostrom, and grab a gold in the process. Canada’s up-and-coming Penny Oleksiak and Australia’s Emma McKeon have both been under 57.0 this meet already, and could give Vollmer trouble making the medal podium. Sjostrom’s semi-final time of 55.84 was the fourth fastest of all time, with the three faster all swum by Sjostrom.

Katie Ledecky swam in the 4×100 free relay finals tonight – how, you ask? At Olympic Trials, Ledecky posted a 7th place finish in the event, where the US typically takes only the top 6 to swim in the relay. In the morning the 3rd-6th swimmers race together to determine the team’s rank in the final; at night, the fastest two swimmers from Trials (who will also compete in the individual 100m free event) join the two swimmers with the fastest times from the morning  to form the theoretical fastest relay to race for a medal. The US Olympic Swimming coaches, intensely aware of Ledecky’s talent, decided to swim her in the prelims along with the 4th, 5th, and 6th swimmers from Trials – this might remind some of how Michael Phelps got on the 4×100 relay in 2008, despite not swimming in the 100 free. The decision was also aided by the US’s Dana Vollmer swimming in the prelims and semi-finals of the 100m fly – opting out of the morning relay swim lightened her load and helped her focus on her individual event. Ledecky earned her stripes, splitting a 52.6, nearly a full second faster than any other American in the morning.

When she combined with Simone Manuel, who led off with a 53.3, Amanda Weir (52.5), Dana Vollmer (53.1), her time of  52.7 completed the fastest possible set of US swimmers. This group, which clinched the American Record, could not match the Australian women (McKeon 53.4, Elmslie 53.1, Bronte Campbell 52.1, and Cate Campbell 51.9), who powered to a new World Record, lowering their mark from this morning, to win by over a second. The Bronte sisters had the two fastest splits of the evening, edging out Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 52.4 – they are heavy favorites to take top two in the 50 and 100 freestyle events. Canada finished third behind the US squad.

Sunday night, Ledecky and teammate Leah Smith, the two fastest 400 swimmers in history, will look to sweep; Sun Yang who took silver in the 400m free will vie for top spot in the 200 free, while the US’s Conor Dwyer and Townley Haas will fight for the top 8; Lilly King and Katie Meili of the US will battle contentious Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova in the 100m breaststroke; David Plummer and Ryan Murphy will look to keep the US’s 100m backstroke winning streak alive moving through the semi-finals, fending off Australian Mitch Larkin; and will Michael Phelps be granted a spot on the 4×100 free relay, and if so why? Check it out!

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Swimming

King is Queen;Haas has Ticket; Smoliga/Murphy Back into First

Of the ten swimmers definitely going to Rio from Tuesday night’s swimming (excluding Gunnar Bentz and Clarke Smith, the presumptive 5th and 6th men for the 4×200 freestyle relays) only two (Conor Dwyer and Ryan Lochte) have  been before. Many are calling it a changing of the guard, a symbolic rejuvenation of a sport heralded for career longevity (Natalie Coughlin, who made top-8 in the 100 back, was 12-years senior to the next youngest swimmer). Thus far, the mid-career pros have been dealt out by the high power college-age athletes. Wednesday’s events promise more age and experience (look for Adrian, Feigen, and other returning Olympians in the 100 free, Allison Schmitt in the 200 free, and Phelps in the 200 fly).  Here’s a recap of Tuesday.

Women’s 200 Free Semi-final

In a race essentially signed, sealed, and delivered to Katie Ledecky, there was still plenty of excitement. The race for second is always a dire one, but for the 200m free (like the 100m free) the top 4 and usually top 6 are guaranteed a spot on the relays. The semi-finals saw faceoffs between headliners like Allison Schmitt, Missy Franklin, and Leah Smith, NCAA champion Simone Manuel,  distance stars like Cierra Runge and Shannon Vreeland, and Melanie Margalis, swimming the first of two semi-final swims. The sprint sensation Manuel took the race out hard, faster than even Ledecky through the first 150m, but she suffered on the last 50 for it. Schmitt was overtaken by Leah Smith time-wise, as the pair grabbed 2nd and 3rd. Missy Franklin put up a respectable swim for fourth, which would ensure a relay spot, and Manuel grabbed fifth ahead of Runge. Based on Smith’s finish, just tenths off her best, and her ability to track down Ledecky in the 400 she holds the favorite status going into the final. Schmitt still holds the American Record, although Ledecky was only 3 seconds off that time 200m into her 400, so if she feels like it that record will fall. Only Ledecky looks poised to face the competitive world-wide field with Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and the Netherland’s Femke Heemskerk, but Smith and Schmitt both have the potential, and Franklin may yet shine in this meet like so many believe she can.

Men’s 200m Free

There has rarely been so hotly contested a race as this year’s 200 freestyle. Every member of this heat had some incredible distinction (including 3 Olympic medalists and the NCAA record holders in the 500y free, 1000y free, and 200y fly), and everyone wanted the ride to Rio. With a ticket already punched in the 400m free, Conor Dwyer opened strong, leading the field at the 100m mark. That was when veteran Ryan Lochte turned it on with back to back underwater performances that put him out in front, coming off the final turn. But as the last 50 meters elapsed, college sensations Townley Haas and Jack Conger brought it home. Haas clinched first, ahead of Dwyer, with a 1:45.66 making him the 7th fastest American in history. Conger, finishing 3rd, blew past Lochte who had the second slowest final 50 in the field and looked tired coming into the wall. Those four have guaranteed passes to Rio to compete in the 4×200 freestyle relay, and Haas and Dwyer will compete in the individual 200m event.

Townley Has

After his freshman year, and NCAA record, Townley Haas can add Olympian to his impressively growing resume!

Women’s 100m Back

The women’s 100m backstroke resembles the 2012 Olympic Trials heat, except perhaps
flipped. Back then, Missy Franklin was the top finished, posting a 58.85, followed by
Rachel Bootsma, and Natalie Coughlin was heartbreakingly close to an individual swim in
London finishing third – 17-year-old Olivia Smoliga finished fourth. This time around,
Smoliga lead the charge to Rio, winning with a 59.02; behind her SwimMAC’s Kathleen
Baker snatched second – Franklin and Coughlin finished 7th and 8th with unimpressive
swims (and Bootsma failed to make the semi-finals). Coughlin’s 2nd 50 was fatigued, and
Franklin never really got going, raising concerns about her preparedness for this meet.
The Brazil-bound duo of Smoliga and Baker will have a tough event against international
stars like Australia’s Emily Seebohm, who may herself break Franklin’s world record
mark.

Men’s 100m Back

The 100 back offered two spots to three contenders: Matt Grevers, the 2012 top
qualifier; Ryan Murphy, the hot college prospect from Cal, who was 6th in 2012; and
David Plummer, the father of two who finished a disappointing third in 2012. This time
around, Grevers will be staying home. Ryan Murphy and David Plummer were with .04
seconds the entire race, holding back Olympian Grevers by half a second. The rest of
the heat was a step further back, but many of them should be back in 2020, but for
Grevers this was not outcome he wanted facing retirement. Plummer and Murphy will be on
even footing with Australia’s Mitch Larkin and perhaps France’s Camille Lacourt looking
for a hotly contested gold in Rio.

Women’s 100m Breast

The 100 breast was similarly a 3-woman race – SwimMAC’s Katie Meili, Indiana’s Lilly
King, and Tennassee’s Molly Hannis have been slugging it out for 3 sessions, ahead of
big names like Breeja Larson and Jessica Hardy. But in this final King went out fast
and never looked back; she has been the only swimmer to achieve a time faster than 1:06
at this meet. Meili grabbed second, swimming a 1:06.07, edging out Molly Hannis by half
a second. Larson moved from 8th to 4th in the final, boding well for her 200
breaststroke later this week. Come Rio, the American ladies will face a tough Eastern
block of the Lithuanian Ruta Mielutyte and Russian Yulia Efimova.

Men’s 200m Fly Semi-final

The 200 fly is largely considered a race for second behind a rejuvenated Michael
Phelps. His two swims so far have put him well in front of the field, giving him a
second of cushion before the next American. Well off his own record, Phelps posted a
1:55.17 last night, looking a little tired in the home stretch. College stand-out Jack
Conger grabbed 7th, impressive after swimming the 200 freestyle less than an hour
before. Conger is less than 2 seconds behind Phelps now, and with more rest he might be
a good sleeper pick. However he’ll be stacked up against Olympian Tom Shields,
currently in third, 400IM champion Chase Kalisz, and fellow-200 swimmer Gunnar Bentz
who will benefit from the extra rest as well. The 7 swimmers behind Phelps all touched
within under a second of each other, so this race is going to be incredibly tough.
Phelps dropped a 1:52.94 last August so he is capable of greater swims, and he is
perhaps saving his taper for Rio, but whichever other American makes it will face a
competitive global field, led by Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh who is faster than Phelps since
London.

Women’s 200m IM Semi-final

The final event of Tuesday night was the women’s 200m individual medley, and it is also
a hotly contested race. Maya DiRado, the top qualifier in the longer 400 medley and
fourth place finisher in this event in 2012, is the top seed going into Wednesday night
after a strong swim of 2:10.09. Behind her, finalist Melanie Margalis, who is also in
good position to qualify in the 200m free, is looking to complete the grueling 400-
yard-double Wednesday night and come away with two Olympic tickets. Hoping to spoil her
achievement are Madisyn Cox and Caitlin Leverenz, both about one second back. Leverenz
has the second fastest US swim of all time from her trip to London, and DiRado holds
the third (hundreds of a second apart) from her swim at 2015 World Championships. The
rest of the field is further back. In an Olympic Trials where returning Olympians are
time and time again missing their old marks, can Leverenz ward off Margalis, Cox and
DiRado, or will fresh blood reign?

Tune in tomorrow to see it play out, along with a fresh new batch of semi-finals after the morning events!

 

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