Meilutyte (LTU) and Le Clos (RSA) shine on day 2

FINA World Swimming Championships (25m)

Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) and Chad Le Clos (RSA) were the “most valuable swimmers” of the second day of the 11th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), taking place in Istanbul. In the women’s 50m breaststroke, the Lithuanian revelation of 2012 (she won the Olympic title in the 100m breaststroke) got the gold in a new Championships Record of 29.44, after having improved the mark in the heats (29.56) and semis (29.51). In the men’s 100m butterfly, Le Clos (winner of the Olympic 200m butterfly) also swam fast, clocking a new event’s best mark in 48.82.

The rest of the session was marked by three more gold medals for the U.S. team – thanks to the men's quartet in the 4x200m free relay, Olivia Smoliga (a surprising winner in the 100m back) and Matt Grevers (who narrowly defeated Russian Stanislav Donets in the men’s 100m back). Japan's Daiya Seto confirmed an excellent 2012 season with a sub-4 minute triumph in the men’s 400m IM while Fabio Scozzoli (ITA) also confirmed his credentials in the 100m breaststroke. In the longest duel of the day, Lauren Boyle (NZL) beat Lotte Friis (DEN) for the title in the women’s 800m free.



Finals in detail

In the men’s 400m IM, with Ryan Lochte (USA) out of the race for a fourth consecutive win – the North American star decided not to include this event in his programme for these championships – the obvious candidate for gold was Daiya Seto (JPN), the best in the heats and the swiftest this season (4:00.02, at the FINA/ARENA Swimming World Cup meet in Tokyo). His main challenger was Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh, with a personal best of 3:57.27, and recent European champion in a time of 4:00.99. In the final, Seto perfectly controlled the race, touching first and establishing a new best performance of the season in 3:59.15. Cseh picked up silver in 4:00.50 while the second Magyar of the final, David Verraszto, earned bronze in 4:02.87.

"I expected the gold and would have liked to swim a better time. I'm not satisfied with the silver. I didn't like today's swim because I planned to swim at a different pace but could not; Seto was probably too fast in the breaststroke", admitted Cseh.
 
2012 Olympic revelation Ruta Meilutyte (LTU, 15 years old) was the woman to beat in the 50m breaststroke, after establishing two consecutive Championships Records in the heats (29.56) and semi-finals (29.51) of this event. In the decisive race, the gold medallist in the 100m breaststroke in London proved her present superiority in the distance, getting the gold in 29.44, a new Championships Record and giving her country the first medal ever in the history of these Championships. Also a 'première' in the history of the competition was the silver medal of Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson (29.67). Australian Sarah Katsoulis claimed bronze in 29.94. Jessica Hardy (USA), World record holder and winner of the distance in 2008, took fifth in 30.01.


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Women's 50m breaststroke medallists - credit: Giorgio Scala

An ecstatic Meilutyte commented on her race: “I really didn’t expect it. At the moment it feels just like I have swum a normal race, but it will start sinking in. It’s crazy.” On being considered the favourite before the race: “I never speak about it with my coach, I just do my thing and have fun." Finally, on Jessica Hardy not being able to chase her in the next lane: “Jessica had a race before, so I think she was a bit tired. I did my own race, I didn’t look at anyone else”, she concluded.

Uncontested dominator of the men’s 100m back at the 2012 FINA/ARENA Swimming World Cup (winning six out the eight races in the programme), where he clocked the best performance of the season (49.49), Stanislav Donets (RUS) was both the winner in 2010 (49.07) and Championships record holder also since Dubai (swimming the first leg of the 4x100m medley relay in 48.95). In lane 5, 2012 Olympic champion Matt Grevers (USA) swam an incredible race to capture gold in 49.89, 0.02 faster than the Russian, who touched for silver in 49.91. The bronze went to Brazil’s Guilherme Guido in 50.50.

"I saw in the semis that Donets' underwaters are incredible so I knew that to be competitive with him, I had to keep my legs a little fresh to be able to have that extra pop at the end. I didn't think I would catch him in the last 25m, I touched the wall, saw I won and it was a nice surprise”, said a thrilled Grevers at the end of his effort.

Donets was necessarily less enthusiastic: "It was an interesting race but I lost speed in the last metres. I'm a little upset because I won this race three times at the FINA Swimming World Cup and I swam faster than today, but these are World Championships and everything that happens before doesn't really matter".

On the fact that he's coming back from an injury: "The shoulder injury changed a lot of things in my life, I changed my attitude to swimming, I started feeling more responsibility. I set new goals and will try to do my best for the next Worlds in Barcelona".

In what was perhaps one of the most 'open' finals of the session (women’s 100m back), Rachel Goh (AUS) started with a slight favouritism being the best performer of the season, with a 57.02 effort at the Berlin leg of the FINA/ARENA Swimming World Cup. Second best of the semis, the 26-year-old Australian had to deal with Mie Nielsen from Denmark, the fastest coming to the final and with the recent European champion, Daryna Zevina (UKR) in lane 7.

In Istanbul, surprises also happen and the triumph came unexpectedly from lane 1, with Olivia Smoliga (USA). At her first senior major international competition, the 18-year-old swimmer got the gold in 56.64, followed by Nielsen (silver in 57.07) and Simona Baumrtova (CZE), bronze medallist (like at the 2012 European short course) in 57.18. Goh, first at the 50m mark, finished in fourth (57.31).

"I was definitely not expecting to finish first, I was feeling so confident during the race so it is really nice to win gold. It was great to see my parents in the crowd and hear the national anthem. It's my first national team international trip and I hope to be in Barcelona next year", declared Smoliga.

Also happy was Baumrtova: "It was a big surprise. I did not expect to win a medal. I improved my PB tonight, I am on the podium of the World championships, I am just so thrilled".

With South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh (World record holder, 2010 champion and the fastest of the season) absent, the option for victory in the men’s 100m breaststroke had to come from Fabio Scozzoli (ITA), the best in the semis and the winner of the gold medal at the recent European Championships. The 24-year-old did not disappoint and upgraded his silver medal from 2010, touching first in 57.10, a new best mark of the year. The silver medal went to Damir Dugonjic (SLO, 57.32) while Kevin Cordes (USA) got the bronze in 57.83. For both Dugonjic (born in 1988) and Cordes (19 years old), these were their first medals at this level.

"No one ever won a gold medal in short course for the men so I'm happy. I knew that in the last 50m, I got to go faster. I knew I could win a medal. In the last month, I've been training hard and gained a lot of motivation for this meet to do a good race", considered the Italian winner.

With a very strong field including Laszlo Cseh (HUN), Chad Le Clos (RSA), Ryan Lochte and Tom Shields  from USA, Rafael Munoz (ESP) and Nikolay Skvortsov (RUS),  the men’s 100m butterfly was a one-way final, with the gold going to an inspired Chad Le Clos in a new Championships Record of 48.82. The Olympic champion confirmed his excellent season and was even under World record pace at the 50m mark. Shields touched the wall in 49.54 for second while Lochte earned bronze in 49.59.


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Le Clos (RSA) and Shields (USA) - credit: Giorgio Scala

"The FINA Swimming World Cup was a good preparation for me. After the Olympics, I did not want to be known as a one-day hit, so I'm pretty happy with my race tonight. That was my immediate goal after Olympics to come to the World short course, it was important to come here and win a gold medal", said Le Clos.

Looking ahead, he added: "I was a breaststroke swimmer in the beginning when I was 16, I never swam butterfly. For the next two years, I'll train my breaststroke, keep butterfly and also freestyle."

Without Camille Muffat (FRA), recent World record holder in the distance, the main fight in the women’s 800m free occurred between Lauren Boyle (NZL), fourth at the 2012 Olympics in this event, and Lotte Friis (DEN), bronze medallist at the 2008 Olympics and winner of the 1500m free at the FINA World Championships Shanghai in 2011. Friis got some advance in the first laps but Boyle took a decisive option for victory from the 400m-mark onwards. In the end, the New Zealander triumphed in 8:08.62, narrowly missing the Championships Record, owned since 2008 byRebecca Adlington. Friis arrived second in 8:10.99 while the bronze went to American Chloe Sutton in a 'distant' 8:15.53.

Commenting on the first title ever for New Zealand, Boyle said: "I'm really happy, I did not expect that, New Zealand has had a rough catch for a while in the sport so it is nice to win this title. I was ranked sixth coming into this final so I knew it was going to be tough. I have been training since late October and I had this competition in my mind as a goal."

Friis said post-event: "It was a tough race for me, I had a long break after the Olympics so I'm happy with the result tonight. I knew Lauren (Boyle) was in great shape because she only took one week off after the Olympics. I just wanted to hold the other swimmers at bay".

Swimming very close to his Championships Record of 1:41.08 from 2010, and much faster than his 200m free victory (1:41.92) in Istanbul, Ryan Lochte (USA) gave a decisive lead for his team in the 4x200m free, touching first after the first leg in 1:41.17. The North Americans (besides Lochte, the quartet was formed by Conor Dwyer, Michael Klueh and Matthew McLean) never lost the control of the race, touching first in 6:51.40. The silver went to Australia in 6:52.29 while Germany, led by Paul Biedermann, earned bronze in 6:53.22. The 2010 champion and World record holder – Russia – finished at the podium's door.

"We traditionally have strong relays, we know that all countries push to their best, so we did our best to win this race", commented Matthew McLean, from the US team.

Australia’s Tommaso D'Orsogna recalled the “road” since the 2012 Games in London: "Since these Olympics we've already taken our steps to move forward, do everything we can to push forward in the next years, we are already doing big improvements, there are a lot of young guys in the team so we try to revamp everything to get the success that we can get. I think the relay sums up how the team is at present".

Paul Biedermann also explained: "Germany's performance at the Olympics was not as good as expected, we're on a new way now and we're pretty happy with bronze".