It’s a changing of the guard. After tonight’s finals, 6 passports were stamped to Rio, four of them first time Olympians, and the 16 more swimmers advance to finals tomorrow night.
[If you missed the reactions to prelims, read here]
The night began with a highly touted race between College Champion Chase Kalisz and Olympic Champion Ryan Lochte in the 400IM, but the way in panned out would have spoiled many bets. Lochte opened the race with a strong fly and back, but was passed on the breaststroke by Kalisz. Not only was Lochte’s breast split atypically slow, he didn’t have the strong and composed freestyle he’s so known for, and he was overtaken by Jay Litherland. The third for Lochte must come as a disappointment, and hopefully not a sign of injury, but Kalisz dazzled with a 4:09, not the fastest US time by far but a strong effort that could stack up competitively with the current world leaders.
The women’s 100 fly progressed more according to script. Dana Vollmer still has her incredible speed and technique, but besides Kelsi Worrell nobody else can hang. The pair were the only swimmers to break 58 today. Claire Donahue and Hellen Moffitt both cemented their spots in the top 8, the young Cassidy Bayer posted another impressive time, 58.11, but was bested by Sarah Gibson of Texas A&M, who dropped from 59.19 to 58.02. Gibson might just be the wild card to topple the establishment, if she pulls deep again and sticks it out with Worrell and Vollmer. The finals are tomorrow night.
For the 400 free there was one heck of a show. Remember when Paul Biedermann of Germany set the World Record in 2009 wearing a tech suit? Well, Texas’s Clark Smith put Biedermann to shame for about 150-200 yards. Smith was as much as 1.5 seconds under World Record pace, and he pulled the field forward with him. Clark fell off his incredible pace and wound up finishing fifth, but as Smith faded, the battle between Connor Jaeger, Conor Dwyer, and Zane Grothe emerged to the forefront. Dwyer was looking strong all race, holding a sensible second behind Smith, but right around mid-way Jaeger fired the jets and didn’t look back. Jaeger closed the gap on Dwyer, and passed him in the final 50. Meanwhile, NCAA Champion Townley Haas finished strong and grabbed third place, almost overtaking Dwyer, but sinking Grothe back to 4th. It was an electric race, and the entire pool light up as Jaeger posted the third fastest time in American History behind only Larsen Jensen and Peter Vanderkaay, passing Eric Vendt in the history books. As many predicted, Conor and Connor made it through.
The women’s 400 IM also fell to the favorites coming into the meet. Despite a great morning swim by Sarah Henry, Maya DiRado did what she does and locked down the 400 IM. Elizabeth was hanging just about a second back for the whole race until the last 50, but held on to second place, despite a charge by Bethany Galat early on the freestyle leg. Cox, who finished 4th, and Galat both turned in great swims, besting Olympian Caitlin Leverenz, but ultimately fell short to DiRado and Beisel. DiRado, who has a full schedule of events this week, will have tomorrow to rest and revel in being an Olympic Athlete.
Finally, the men’s 100 breaststroke ended the evening with a bang. The story-line is great, Cody Miller and Kevin Cordes, two titans of breaststroke, set to face off tomorrow in the final. Cordes upped the ante by breaking the American Record, posting a sizzling 58.94. Cody Miller turned in a 59.09 ahead of Josh Prenot who is third. Prenot may benefit from not having the 400IM prelim as he fights with Miller and Cordes tomorrow in the final. Behind Prenot, three swimmers clustered between 59.85 and 59.88 – rising star Michael Andrew, Texas grad Andrew Wilson, and Georgia’s Nic Fink. It is unlikely any of the three can break into the top two, but Michael Andrew again lowered his Junior World Record. The final tomorrow will decide all.
A quick shout-out to Brendan McHugh (Penn alumnus) and Alex Evdokimov (Cornell undergrad). McHugh posted a lifetime best 1:00.46, and Evdokimov managed to tie his prelims PR, 1:01.14. It isn’t often two Ivy League guys make it to the semi-finals but it was great to watch. More great swims coming tomorrow!