Lochte: two more gold for the versatile champion

Shanghai 2011 - Swimming

With two more wins during the sixth session of the swimming finals of the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai, Ryan Lochte (USA) is definitively the second best swimmer ever in the history of this competition. His medal tally now stands at 11 gold medals, three silver and three bronze, and only his arch-rival in China, Michael Phelps, has done better so far. Lochte’s path to glory started at the 2005 edition in Montreal (CAN), where he helped USA winning the 4x200m free relay, and got two bronze in the 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley. The count raised in Melbourne 2007 to five podium finishes (two gold, three silver), and continued in Rome 2009 with four titles and one bronze medal. In Shanghai, he is the world champion in the 200m free, 200m individual medley (on these two distances, he defeated Michael Phelps) 200m backstroke and 4x200m free relay.

But if the greatest stars in the sport of swimming are generally associated with the 50m-pool, Lochte is perhaps the most notable exception to this rule. His career in short course events is as impressive as in the Olympic-sized pool: also in Shanghai, but in 2006, he collected six medals at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), a feat he would repeat two years later in Manchester (GBR). Could he do even better? Yes! In December 2010, in Dubai (UAE), he became the swimmer with more medals in a single edition of these championships: six gold and one silver. Last “detail”: Lochte also has three gold, one silver and two bronze medals at the Olympics (he was present in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008).

Considering Phelps’ clear option for the 50m-pool events, it can easily be said that Ryan Lochte is the most successful swimmer in the history of FINA World Championships in general (long and short course combined). Lochte will also stay in history by being the man who first broke World Records after the FINA change of rules concerning swimwear in the beginning of 2010: first in 25m-pool, when, in Dubai, he clocked 3:55.50 in the 400m individual medley, and now, in Shanghai, in the 200m individual medley (1:54.00). Rightfully, he was elected FINA 2010 Male Swimmer of the Year.

Also a devoted supporter of humanitarian causes, actively involved in swimming clinics and interested in fashion matters (the colour of his shoes in the pool deck is already part of his character), the Floridian star (he will be 27 next Tuesday) didn’t find special problems to win his third gold medal in Shanghai. Already the fastest of the 200m backstroke semis, Lochte perfectly controlled the operations during the race, touching home in 1:52.96, a new personal best (his previous fastest performance in the event, 1:53.82, was the time corresponding to the bronze medal he got in Rome 2009). Like in the Eternal City, Japan’s Ryosuke Irie was again second, in 1:54.11, while the bronze went to Lochte’s teammate, Tyler Clary (1:54.69).

“I’m just taking each swim at a time, each race at a time and each year at a time. I still have one more race left to finish off this meet and after that, I’m going to get ready for next year. The 200 backstroke hurt; it was probably one of the hardest events for me to swim. This event was definitely my best time but I know I can go faster. There are a lot of things I can work on, I’ll do that and hopefully I’ll have a better 200 backstroke for London,” considered Lochte.

In the 4x200m free, Lochte was decisive in the victory of the USA, swimming the last leg of the relay and allowing the victory for the North Americans (Michael Phelps, Peter Vanderkaay, Richard Berens, and Lochte) in 7:02.67. It was USA’s fourth consecutive win in this event, after the titles in 2005, 2007 and 2009. The strongest opposition to the USA progression came from the French quartet (Yannick Agnel, Gregory Mallet, Jeremy Stravius, Fabien Gilot), leading after the first three swimmers. In the final duel with Gilot (1:47.35), Lochte was visibly faster (1:44.56), and the European squad finally got the silver in 7:04.81 (first medal ever for the French in this race at FINA World Championships). For the joy of the thousands of spectators in the pool, China got the bronze in 7:05.67 (also first award in this race for the Asian nation). The surprise came from Australia: always in the podium of this relay since 1998, the fifth position in Shanghai has certainly a bitter taste. 

4x200m Free Podium - Credit: Giorgio Scala

“It’s always a special feeling when the four of us are able to come together; we’ve had a lot of great history for our relay. Ever since 2004, when we regained this title, this is something that we always want to keep. Having these three guys behind me, this is something I am comfortable and confident with. Having Ryan’s underwaters and his walls were a big key part of that race,” commented Phelps on the relay win.

In the remaining finals of the day, the second shared gold medal of these championships (after the men’s 100m backstroke) was obtained by Jeanette Ottesen (DEN) and Aliaksandra Herasimenia (BLR), in the women’s 100m free, in a time of 53.45. It is the first medal at FINA World Championships for Ottesen, while Herasimenia was second in the 50m backstroke at the 2007 Worlds in Melbourne (AUS). The bronze went to Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED, 53.66). Curiously, the fourth place was also shared (53.72) by two swimmers: silver medallist in Rome 2009 Fran Halsall (GBR) and the second Dutch of this final, Femke Heemskerk (first on Day 1 in the 4x100m free relay). The 2008 Olympic and 2009 winner of this event, Germany’s Britta Steffen, had a very poor performance in the heats and announced her withdrawal of the competition soon after.

“I didn’t expect to win the gold. Actually not even to win a medal at all,” revealed Ottesen. Herasimenia was also quite surprised: “I was focused on my race and did not understand what was happening until I saw the scoreboard.”

In the women’s 200m breaststroke, the duel between 2008 Olympic champion Rebecca Soni (USA) and 2009 world champion Nadia Higl (SRB) turned out to be largely favourable to Soni, who got the gold in 2:21.47 (two years ago, in Rome, she hadn’t been so inspired and finished fourth). The North American had been also first in the 100m breaststroke in Shanghai. The silver went to Yulia Efimova (RUS), who touched home in 2:22.22 – the Russian is the current European champion in this event, but finished fourth in the 100m of this stroke at the Oriental Sports Centre. A newcomer in the “club of world medallists” is Canada’s Martha McCabe, who clinched the bronze in 2:24.81. Higl had a disappointing performance and concluded in sixth (2:25.93), while the second Canadian of this final – world record holder (2:20.12) and second in Rome 2009, Annamay Pierse – was eighth in a poor time of 2:27.00.

Finally, in the men’s 200m breaststroke, logics also prevailed… but until the 150m mark! Two-time Olympic champion in this event, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima was then first and swimming faster than the World Record pace (-0.27), but in the final leg he allowed the recovery of Daniel Gyurta, from Hungary. The Magyar, winner in Rome 2009 and European champion in 2010, got the gold in 2:08.41, while Kitajima (world champion in 2003 and 2007) had to settle for silver in 2:08.63. The bronze went to 19-year-old Christian Vom Lehn (GER, 2:09.06). Eric Shanteau (USA), silver medallist two years ago, was fourth in 2:09.28.

“I came to this meet to defend my title from 2009 and I am very happy that I succeeded. It was a rather tough competition mentally; at the 150 mark, I saw that I was again further back, even though I had gained advantage in my last turn so I had to recollect myself and go after Kosuke. I managed to find my rhythm again and I was able to catch him in the last metres,” recalled a happy Gyurta about his race. More reserved was Kitajima: “I’m really looking forward to compete against Daniel at the next Olympics. Having all these young guys makes it more challenging for me and it motivates me as well.”

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