USA success: six medals for Phelps; Franklin with five

Shanghai 2011 - Swimming

In a teenagers’ final, Melissa (“Missy”) Franklin (USA) got her fourth medal in these championships, the gold, in the women’s 200m backstroke (2:05.10). In Shanghai, she had previously assured the title in the 4x200m free relay, obtained the silver in the 4x100m free relay and earned bronze in the 50m backstroke. The 16-year-old swimmer is definitively the most notable “rookie” of the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai, and various experts in the pool deck consider her arrival at the top of the world hierarchy a phenomenon similar to the first gold of a “certain” Michael Phelps in 2001 in Fukuoka, also at 16… Franklin was born on May 10, 1995 in Pasadena (California), but lives in Aurora (Colorado). Swimming for the Colorado Stars and coached by Todd Schmitz, she started swimming because of her mother’s fear of the water!

The silver went to Belinda Hocking (AUS, 20), who touched home in 2:06.06 – it was her first medal at this level. Also new at world podiums is 17-year-old Sharon Van Rouwendaal (NED, third in 2:07.78). If the medallists age average is 17.7 years old, the remaining finalists were not much older, with the eight best’s age average being of 18.75.

USA saga continued shortly after. With his main challenger in 2008 and 2009 out of range (Milorad Cavic, SRB, finished only 18th of the heats), Michael Phelps (USA) was the safest bet for the men’s 100m butterfly win. And the best swimmer in history did not disappoint: third at the 50m mark, the North American did not find special problems in sprinting for the gold in 50.71, getting his sixth medal in Shanghai (after his two gold in the 200m butterfly and 4x200m free, silver in the 200m free and 200m individual medley, and bronze in the 4x100m free relay). Michael Phelps was the winner of this event also in Melbourne 2007 and Rome 2009 and also the gold medallist at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where a thrilling battle with Cavic took place at the Water Cube’s pool (Phelps winning by a mere 0.01).

“There are a lot of things that are going to help me for motivation over next year; there are small things that I can change and there’s still room for improvement. It’s just about being able to do the times you want to do. I have written down some times that I want to accomplish this year and I have pretty much all of them fairly close except the 100 fly. I want to be a little faster in this one,” said Phelps. “When you go through an entire season and you don’t go faster, it’s frustrating. So being able to have that feeling after months of training that all the work done actually paid off, this is something special that does show that you are making progress. And this is hopefully going to allow me to set up something good for next year,” he added.

As in many other events, the minor medals went to “new kids on the block” (and surely swimmers to watch at next year’s Olympics) – the silver going to Poland’s Konrad Czerniak (51.15) and the bronze to Australia’s Tyler McGill (51.26). Jason Dunford lost a good opportunity to give his native Kenya the first medal ever at FINA World Championships, by finishing fourth in 51.59. The 2010 European champion, Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin concluded fifth in 51.86.

In the end of a very successful session for the USA  - three gold medals out of the six finals contested –  the North Americans recovered the title in the women’s 4x100m medley relay, a gold they had last won in 1998. Since then, China (2003 and 2009) and Australia (2001, 2005 and 2007) set the rules, but in Shanghai, USA led all the way through (win in 3:52.36) thanks to a quartet formed by Natalie Coughlin (backstroke), Rebecca Soni (breaststroke), Dana Vollmer (butterfly) and Melissa Franklin (free). It was the fifth award for Franklin in Shanghai, a superb performance for her first World Championships’ participation. China got this time the silver (3:55.61) in front of its fans, and Australia placed third (3:57.13).

“I was definitely nervous knowing that I would be anchoring it but I just knew that if I did my best, my team would be proud of me. There is really no word to describe the way I feel; I have never been this happy in my entire life. It’s been such an incredible meet. Everything was run so perfectly, the pool is incredible, the crowd is so energetic. I am going to take absolutely everything away from this. I have learned so much being here; one of the best moments was for the first time being on that podium. Just having those two minutes after the whole year of hard work, it was so worth it and I think I am going to use that to motivates me the trials,” considered Franklin, after her effort.

Her teammate Natalie Coughlin also shared her joy: “Missy is a very unique swimmer; she’s barely 16 and has the maturity to handle the pressure of swimming. Many have spoken about how special she is because she is so genuinely happy and excited to race; more than any other on this team. And it’s unbelievably refreshing to have her energy on the team.”

The seventh day of the swimming finals in Shanghai had started with two short, yet thrilling races. In the women’s 50m butterfly, Inge Dekker (NED) got her first individual title at FINA World Championships, touching first in 25.71. The Dutch star had been third in this event in 2007, and had collected some other medals in relay races (namely the 4x100m free gold in this edition of the championships). Behind the favourite Therese Alshammar until the 80m mark, Dekker was better in the final sprint, leaving the 33-year-old Swede with the silver (25.76). Alshammar was gold medallist in this event in Melbourne 2007 – her only title at FINA’s major event, besides her four silver and one bronze medal since the 2001 FINA World Championships in Fukuoka (JPN). The bronze in Shanghai went to Melanie Henique (FRA), her first success at this level for the 18-year-old, after her third place also at the 2010 European Championships in this race. Surprisingly, the winner in Rome 2009, South Africa’s Marieke Guehrer finished eighth, in 26.21.

“I am very happy to have become first now; this is my fifth World championships. It’s always tough in a 50m final because anyone can win. If you look at all the work that I have done, it’s not surprising that I did my best time in the final and that’s what I have been trying to accomplish the whole year,” commented Dekker about her win.

Things continued fast with the men’s 50m free final, in which 2008 Olympic and 2009 world champion Cesar Cielo Filho (BRA), on lane 5, swam next to his teammate Bruno Fratus (the fastest of the semis in 21.76). In the decisive race, Cielo clearly dominated from the very beginning, touching in a comfortable first position in a time of 21.52. If the gold was “relaxed”, the swimmers behind the 2011 champion fought a tight battle for the remaining medals. In the end, Luca Dotto (ITA) was the fastest of the “rest of the company”, clinching the silver in 21.90 – at 21, this was Dotto’s first medal at FINA World Championships and this Italian swimmer will certainly be one of the men to beat at sprint events at the 2012 Olympic Games in London (GBR). For Cielo, it was his second gold in Shanghai, after the title in the 50m butterfly and the deception in the 100m free – where he lost his world champion crown and finished only fourth. The bronze went to Alain Bernard (FRA, 21.92), also third in this race at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. His teammate Fred Bousquet, second in Rome 2009, finished only 21st of the heats in Shanghai, not qualifying for the semi-finals of this event.

“The race was very well contested, with one big surprise, the absence of Fred [Bousquet]. I was happy to repeat my two gold medals from Rome 2009; I had a crazy month, so this is a big relief for me. Moreover, I became a more mature person, as it was probably the biggest challenge of my life,” declared Cesar Cielo.

In the longest event of the session, the women’s 800m free, an interesting duel opposed 2008 Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington (GBR) and 2009 gold medallist Lotte Friis (DEN). Alternating in the lead of the race, the victory smiled to Adlington in a time of 8:17.51, allowing her to obtain the first world title of her career (in Shanghai, she had been silver medallist in the 400m free). The silver was obtained by Friis in 8:18.20 (second medal for the Danish swimmer, after the title in the 1500m free), while Kate Ziegler (USA) earned the bronze in a “distant” 8:23.36 (she was the winner of this event in 2005 and 2007).

Rebecca Adlington (GBR) - Credit: Giorgio Scala

“It was a tough race; I just tried to get involved as much as I possibly could in the race. At last Worlds, I came away with two bronze so I am very happy with the gold and silver from this meet and I can’t really ask for any better. Now that I have the gold obviously it adds pressure for next year but I welcome the pressure. If I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t be swimming that well,” revealed Adlington. “I knew Lotte was going to be amazing, she’s had a fantastic week. I knew she was going to be strong so I just tried to stick with her. In the last 25, I saw myself go past her and I thought ‘just keep going!” she concluded.

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