Swimming day 7 – Blackjack for Phelps, Franklin sets 7th World Record

London 2012 Swimming

This time, no need to review the images twice, thrice, in slow motion or with the help of an underwater camera! This time, everything could be seen from above the water level, without special technology or complicated timing devices. Michael Phelps' (USA) victory in the men's 100m butterfly was clear and allowed the "kid of Baltimore" to collect his 21st medal at Olympic level – a true blackjack in the pool! In the famous cards' game, the dealer normally doesn't take hits when his two cards represent 17 or more points, which is also the number of gold medals in possession of Michael Phelps since his first successes at the 2004 Games in Athens. The question is: with still one event to go (the 4x100m medley relay), will Phelps take one more gold hit – his 18th one?

In Beijing, this race had been "the race" of the Games, with Phelps getting the title in the last stroke against a less aggressive Milorad Cavic (SRB), who glided too much and did not apply enough strength on the touch pad – the same mistake done by Phelps in London in the 200m fly! The final difference between the two swimmers at the "Water Cube" had been minimal – 50.58 for Phelps against Cavic's 50.59. At the London Aquatics Centre, Phelps was only seventh at half way, but applying his well-known "turbo" at the 75m-mark, he comfortably touched first in 51.21, getting his second individual gold at these Games after the triumph in the 200m IM. With this win, Phelps obtains his third consecutive Olympic success in this event and completes a perfect Olympic cycle, with the gold in Beijing and London, but also at the 2009 and 2011 FINA World Championships. 

"I don't even want to complain about going slower, having a bad turn or finish, I am just happy that the last swim was a win. That's all I really wanted coming into tonight and this one was a bigger margin of victory than the last two combined," declared Phelps. "My start of the meet wasn't what we wanted but I seemed to pick up some speed at the end of the meet and was able to finish with two individual golds. To be able to finish that way, I can't really finish any better so I am very pleased with the outcomes," he admitted.

The silver medal was shared by Chad Le Clos (RSA, winner in the 200m fly) and Evgeny Korotyshkin (RUS) in a time of 51.44. Milorad Cavic, also swimming the final, finished at the podium's door (51.81).

With Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and his wife Kate in the pool, the stands of the Aquatics Centre almost came down during the presentation of the women's 800m free finalists. The fastest in the heats, 2008 Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington was Great Britain's biggest hope for a first swimming gold in London. When the announcer in the pool reminded that millions of British people were in front of their TV screens to support Adlington, "Becky" was still in a good position to catch American Katie Ledecky (15 years old), who had departed like a missile. Despite the electric atmosphere in the pool, Adlington could not overcome the gap and even lost the silver to Spain's Mireia Belmonte. Ledecky finished first in 8:14.63, threatening Adlington's World and Olympic record (8:14.10) set at the "Water Cube". 

"Michael Phelps was the first Olympian I ever met when I was 6 (at Nationals in 2002 or 2003 at the University of Maryland) right before I started swimming so just to hear a 'good luck' from him before the race was really cool, I just thought back to that calming down and I was ready to swim my race," confessed Ledecky. On swimming under WR pace for most of the race: "I was figuring out I was pretty fast. At one point I thought, if I am going to be close to that WR, I don't even care, I just want to get my hand on the wall first."

Belmonte, second in 8:18.76, obtained her second silver after the 200m butterfly. Like in the 400m free, in which she was also Olympic champion in 2008, Adlington got the bronze, in a time of 8:20.32. The weight of responsibility and frustration for not giving a better result to her millions of fans around the country was evident at the podium ceremony, Adlington could not retain her tears.

credit: Giorgio Scala 

"Swimming is so difficult, for me the 800 free has been so painful, the more and more I've done it, the more and more it's hurt, I think it is one of the most painful races in swimming," considered Adlington after her performance. "For myself being 23, people say I'm young but not as a distance swimmer. My body cannot do what I did when I was 16 or 17, I cannot recover as quick. It's just one of those things that are happening, the younger swimmers, they don't need recovery, they can go, go, go. And swimming has advanced so much that I think you need that now," she continued. On Ledecky's triumph, Adlington said, smiling: "I tried to stick with her as much as I can. She is unbelievable, she has such a career ahead of her. Being part of the USA Team, she'll be able to handle the pressure very well, she'll just grow and grow as a swimmer. I definitely think she'll beat my WR at some point and I look forward to seeing that. Obviously, I would have liked to come closer to my PB, I thought she was going to get it tonight. So I can say I'm still part of history." 

In an evening with four magnificent races, it is difficult to establish a hierarchy but the third highlight could go to the women's 200m backstroke final, where an inspired Missy Franklin (USA) had no problem in getting her third gold at these Games (after the 100m backstroke and the 4x200m free relay), in a new World Record of 2:04.06. It was the seventh WR in the Games before the last session of finals scheduled for this Saturday. The best previous global mark had been set at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome (ITA) by Kirsty Coventry (ZIM), in 2:04.81. One year before that, in Beijing, the Zimbabwean star had been the gold medallist, establishing a new Olympic record in 2:05.24. In London, Franklin (17 years old) controlled the race from the beginning and was followed by Anastasia Zueva (RUS), silver in 2:05.92, and teammate Elizabeth Beisel (the fastest in the semis), who earned bronze in 2:06.55. Coventry was far from her glory days, touching in sixth (2:08.18).

"I think it's so awesome that so many swimmers have been able to come here and break WR while a lot of people think you are not going to be able to. I had the time of my life out there, it is my favourite event and I could not think of a better way to end off my individual swims," considered Franklin. "I just wanted to go out there and do my best and get a best time, it just happened to be a WR so I could not be happier," she concluded.

Finally, the trend in London concerning the difficulty of re-validating the Olympic titles was once more confirmed with the "defeat" of favourite Cesar Cielo from Brazil in the men's 50m free. Champion in 2008 in the "Water Cube" (the first gold medal ever for his country in Olympic swimming) and also gold medallist at the 2009 and 2011 FINA World Championships, Cielo was the fastest of the semis and also the best in terms of reaction time on the starting blocks. But in the short race, it quickly became evident that the defence of the Olympic title would need something more: in lane 7, Florent Manaudou, the brother of French star Laure Manaudou (three-time Olympic medallist, but quite unsuccessful in London), created the surprise of the day by touching home in 21.34 and offering France their fourth gold medal at these Games. Manaudou's best record up to date was a fifth place in the 50m butterfly at the 2011 FINA World Championships. When leaving the pool, he was enthusiastically hugged by his sister Laure. The minor medals went to Cullen Jones (USA) and Cielo, respectively finishing in 21.54 and 21.59.

"I think if I did not believe in this victory I would not have finished first. I knew the key to victory would be to stay relaxed during the race. My objective was to make the final so I couldn't be happier," considered Manadou. On the hug of Laure: "She told me she was very proud of me, that she believed in me until the end and she was right. I hope I will have the same swimming career than her, it's going to be complicated to have the same titles as her, especially in the 50m free, it's much closer," he concluded.

Cielo also gave his vision of the race: "I was a bit tired coming into this final. I also made the final in the 100m free and I felt that tiredness. With the progression in age, the body is not responding so quickly… For the future, I have perhaps to review the programme of my races. Overall, I think that the Brazilian participation was positive with my bronze and Thiago's silver [Pereira]. Let's see what will come next in Rio 2016…"