Day Two is in the books at the 2011 FINA World Championships, and we’ve seen some thrilling, nail-biting races. But what’s the bigger picture? Where do we stand, what do we need from Team USA, and where does this leave us heading into London 2012? We’ll grade the performers, performances, and major stories that we’ve seen through two days.
Missy Franklin: A++. The 16-year-old passed her first major international test with flying colors, swimming in the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay with a sizzling 52.99. Coming into the meet, I wrote that this meet was the most important meet for Team USA’s “Next Generation” to step up. Missy Franklin has done just that. With one relay performance, she showed poise, desire, talent, and – afterwards in the interviews – humbleness. She’s giving the women’s team the perfect “youthful spark” that they need, something that the men’s team could use in 2012.
Men’s Sprint Free Relay: C. They hadn’t lost a relay since 2007 – any relay. So we knew this day would come. But after the men finished third in the 4x100 free relay, what has boggled the minds of many is, “Why not put Ryan Lochte on the relay?” Some argue that since Ryan Lochte was the “2010 World’s Best Swimmer” he has an automatic ticket. But remember, Lochte’s specialty isn’t sprint freestyle, and Team USA has some very good sprint freestylers. Nathan Adrian. Jason Lezak. Michael Phelps. That leaves one spot open, which was battled in the preliminaries between Garrett Weber-Gale and Ryan Lochte. Weber-Gale had the “faster” split (he led-off in nearly the same time as Lochte), so he swam in finals. You can question this decision all day, but the end result is the same: Team USA wound up third, to a hungrier, more energetic, younger Australian team. Let’s hope they use this as fuel for 2012.
Decision To Hold 25K Race: D-. Several swimmers dropped out of the 25k Open Water race due to dangerous temperatures. The temperature of the water was just too hot, borderline to the maximum temperature limit set by FINA in the wake of Fran Crippen’s death last year. FINA officials decided to continue on with the race, forcing swimmers with a decision to make: To swim or not to swim? This created great anger among many coaches and swimmers alike (just read some social networking websites) and several swimmers dropped out of the race. ESPN’s Bonnie Ford tweeted: “Every int'l official who makes a decision regarding water safety should have to meet face-to-face with Pete and Pat Crippen, Fran's parents.” I don’t disagree.
Jason Dunford’s Sportsmanship: D. The big story heading into these World Championships was Cesar Cielo. Cielo failed a drug test, supposedly due to a contaminated supplement, and he was given probation instead of a suspension. Some swimmers disagreed with the decision (one that allowed Cielo to compete this week). It seems that Dunford was one of the dissenters. After Cielo won the 50m butterfly yesterday, Dunford reportedly gave a poolside “thumbs-down.” All athletes need to show class and sportsmanship. While Dunford could have been giving a thumbs-down to anything, I'm just not a fan of cap-throwing, goggle-tossing, not shaking opponent's hands -- just swim the race. If it did have something to do with Cielo, I wouldn't be surprised.
Dana Vollmer: A-. I’m giving her a minus because she didn’t break a world record in her 100m butterfly. You might say that’s unfair. And it is. (Kidding – great swim, great potential for 2012!)
Ariana Kukors: B. Kukors, the defending world-champion, couldn’t quite hold as she was nipped at the finish of the 200m IM. She finished third by two-tenths of a second. Hopefully, this is a learning experience for Kukors, one that she will use as motivation for the big race in London. Something tells me she will be the hardest-charging swimmer into the wall next year.
Team USA, Women: B+. We’ve seen some solid performances, notably the women’s relay, Dana Vollmer, and Rebecca Soni’s semi-final 100m breaststroke. But the 400m freestyle was disappointing, and I really wish Kukors nailed that finish. Nevertheless, the women’s team has had a few surprises, like Missy Franklin, and shows great promise for more great swims the rest of the meet. But it hasn’t been spectacular – yet.
Team USA, Men: C-. What can I say? They’ve been disappointing. No surprises, no one stepping up to the plate. You know it’s not the best performance by a roster when you’re wishing for swimmers who AREN’T on the roster (Brendan Hansen, Matt Grevers) to mysteriously arrive in Shanghai and jump in a swimsuit and throw down some great races. That said, we haven’t seen the best of what the men’s team is capable of. The medley relay should be very solid, as should the IMs and 200 events. We’re just getting started here on the men’s side, so let’s hope the men’s team gets some sparks. (Who else is missing Aaron Peirsol?)