David Hulmes, FINA Press Correspondent in Hong Kong

Vladimir Morozov (RUS) claimed the scalp of men’s series leader Chad le Clos (RSA), while women’s pacesetter Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) bagged a hat-trick of wins, at the Hong Kong leg of the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup on Saturday.

Morozov won a duel with Le Clos in the 100m free, touching home in 45.91, before adding the 100m IM — but only after a tussle with home-crowd favourite Kenneth To (HKG).

The crowd chanted “Kenneth, Kenneth,” as he challenged Morozov in the latter stages, but the Russian responded to finish in 51.64, with To second in 52.22.

“I feel good. I got a lot of good training in. It’s the 15-hour flight from LA that i’m hurting from. But two from two is a successful night,” said Morozov.

“The extra prize money is definitely a big plus, an extra incentive to carry on with the series. Also, I can qualify for the Europeans in December with World Cup times from the third cluster.”

Morozov (RUS)

This week, FINA announced an increase in prize money to US$600,000 for the top three men and women at the end of the series in November, with half of that going to the two winners. Previously, only the winners were going to be rewarded. Prize money will also be extended to the top eight men and women at the remaining clusters, instead of six earlier.

Le Clos was surprised in the 200m fly by Tom Shields (USA), who ended the first cluster fourth. The American clocked 1:49.62, only dropping off the world record pace set by Le Clos in 2013 in the final 50m.

The South African made it third time lucky on the night with a 22.52 swim ahead of Shields, home in 22.99, in the 50m fly, extending his remarkable run in the event.

“It was a good night. The 200m fly was the one I was most upset about, I was a little bit slow. The 100m free, I can’t complain: I’d like to have gone with Vlad but it was a good time for me, so I’m very happy with that, and it was always going to be tough after two races so I just wanted to get the win — that’s four years undefeated now in the 50m fly short course. The last time I lost was Doha 2013,” said Le Clos.

Sjostrom picked up the pace from the last leg in Eindhoven, marginally outside the world record splits she set in the 200m free there, before easing off to win in 1:51.77. She also won the 100m fly and 50m free.

“I tried to get back into hard training as quickly as possible after I had four weeks off relaxing in Mallorca, Venice and Milan,” said Sjostrom.

“I had a few days to recover this week. I felt my shape was so good before the World Championships in Budapest, so it was quite easy to get back into it. I’m not back in the same shape as Budapest, I’m struggling a bit more here. Every race I do hurts a lot, but I know when it comes to short-course training it’s all about the details in the race, so even if your shape in the swimming is not that good, you can catch up the time when it comes to the turns and underwater kicks, and stuff like that.”

Sjostrom is looking to race three times on Sunday as athletes are allowed to compete in six events in Hong Kong, as opposed to the new four-race format instigated elsewhere this season.

Katinka Hosszu (HUN) renewed her long rivalry with Emily Seebohm (AUS) in the 50m back, 200m back and the 200m IM, emerging victorious in all three, to continue her pursuit of Sjostrom in the overall table. Seebohm finished runner-up in all three races.

“It honestly feels like ages since I was racing. It’s good to be back and hopefully I can go faster and faster,” said the Hungarian.

World-record holder Cameron Van Der Burgh (RSA), whose 25.25 mark in 2009 has stood the test of time well, scored a bloodless win in the 50m breast, clocking 25.80 ahead of Kirill Prigoda (RUS) in 26.16. Van Der Burgh had, however, posted a quicker 25.63 in qualifying.

“Everyone is pretty sluggish, it’s been about six or seven weeks off. I’ve been doing a lot of work in the gym. I feel a little bit sluggish, like the wheels are not turning as smoothly as you need them to. I’m doing a lot more gym than swimming at the moment. Still, I’m going for a big 50m free on Sunday,” said the South African.

Prigoda, who ended the first cluster joint second with Morozov, picked up more valuable points in his pursuit of Le Clos when touching home first in the 200m breast, stopping the clock in 2:04.02.

Alia Atkinson (JAM), continued her reign as queen of the 100m breast, but looked disappointed as she saw a winning time of 1:04.09 on the big screen.

“My biggest fault is that I don’t have a poker face,” laughed Atkinson, who earlier forgot about the automatic qualification rule for her place in the final.

“I wasn’t aware of it in the meeting, they asked other countries and because they didn’t ask me I completely forgot about it. I think that kind of affected me because I hadn't swum in a month and a half in competition. The fault lies with me because I've been through this process already and I should have gone up and talked to someone. Still, it would have been nice if I’d had a reminder.”

“I want to get as many points as I can in this cluster because when we go back to the four-race format it’s going to be tricky, with everybody just doing their best events.”