Day 5 prelims, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai.
Midway morning (prelim reports below) and Britta Steffen, the double Olympic champion of 2008 and double world champion of 2009 has withdrawn from further action after finishing 16th in the 100m freestyle heats on 54.87.
The double Olympic champion is on the comeback trail after a troubled 2010 and said earlier this week that she expects a relay medal to be her only podium visit this week in current condition. Used to luxury class, she said that she felt more "Traby class", a reference to the East German car model of retro chic fame (my neighbour has one, purple cabriolet with cow-hide seats…goes at 20kph with a following wind). More from Steffen a little later.
Four more days of battle ahead, today holding the prospect of a change of guard in the sprint ranks in a test of two schools: victory for the front-end men setting the pace or the back-end burners hunting them down. So far, 17 nations have made the podium in the race pool, at the helm:
All other nations are still in the hunt for a first gold (France's 2 gave Gaul an historic double gold in the 100m backstroke).
A bulk of 22 million Australians (a drop in the ocean somewhere down south compared to the 300 million children aged 8 to 15 in China) will tune in in one shape of form to watch the "Port Maquarie Missile", as Aussie outlets are calling James Magnussen, chase history.
He swam 47.90sec in the first semi of the 100m free last night and, with a 47.49 (best ever in textile) under his belt from the gold-panning 4x100m free relay last Sunday, enters his first solo world-title bout a confident man.
The 20-year-old Magnussen takes on defending champion Cesar Cielo (BRA) a year out from the London 2012 Olympic Games, while of the French pair William Meynard and Fabien Gilot, Meynard races closest to the Australian in terms of the pattern of perfection: controlled first lap but 0.5-0.7sec or so away from the purr sprinters, a return lap hugely superior to those who take it out in the 22sec-plus zone.
The way Magnussen came to his 47.49 was described by Pieter Van Den Hoogenband, the 2000 and 2004 Olympic champion for the Dutch and fastest ever in textile suit from 2000 until last Sunday, as "the perfect race thatI'd worked on with Jacco [Verhaeren, coach]."
When asked by SwimNews back in February this year whether he favoured the '50m men over the 200m men' and Magnussen may well have a stunning 200m in him yet) for the 100m crown in London, US coach Bob Bowman said: "It's in the balance. Swimmers going for the 50 and 100 have those two events. The 200m swimmers tend to have more events they're going for, more ground to cover, and the programme can be a hard one. I maybe wrong but if you look at the people who win the 100m, they have a really strong second 50."
Alex Popov and Pieter Van Den Hoogenband both had better than average times on that homecoming decider. At Athens 2004, Hoogie and Thorpey were rolling into the wall like thunder in the last metres of the blue-ribband final, the 200m arch-rivals the only two men in the race capable of getting inside 25sec on the way home.
Much has changed since then, including suits. "That will make a big difference," said Bowman. "In terms of streamlining and stroke he [Thorpe] should have no trouble. He set a world record in briefs. But what will make the difference is the speed off walls and the underwaters. He didn't push the boundaries very much on that at his best."
Magnussen knows who his foe is today but some of those he may face next year will not be in the water. His Sydney coach Brant Best is doing a fine job, it seems, in getting his charge to cope exceptionally well with the biggest enemy of all: self. Magnussen told The Australian last night that he is felling confident and when he feels confident "crazy things can happen".
However crazy it gets today, there is also a bigger moment ahead. "The biggest thing is to be patient - it's practice for the Olympic Games," Magnussen said last night as he heads for a race from which he could emerge as the first Australian in history to win the world crown and the first in world or Olympic waters to come out on top of a there-and-back battle on freestyle since Mike Wenden took gold in Mexico, 1968.
Meantime, on a day that holds another showdown, over 200m medley, between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps - the first big one over 200m medley since the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games - Britain's James Goddard withdrew from the 200m backstroke heats this morning to avoid aggravating a shoulder niggle ahead of that medley maelstrom this evening.
Women's 100m freestyle
After a 200m test that went awry last night but promises plenty for the future, Femke Heemskerk (NED) returned to the fray with a 53.75 in the 8th of 10 heats. Jeanette Ottesen (DEN) was next home in 53.88, ahead of a 54.24 from 100m 'fly champion Dana Vollmer (USA) and Aussie teenager Yolane Kukla on 54.37.
Heat 9 featured Natalie Coughlin's lesson in streamlining out of starts, but the American was soon challenged in the swim by Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED), who pressed on to a comfortable 54.10 ahead of joint 54.47 efforts from Coughlin and Alieksandra Herasimenia (BLR), with Gabriela Fagundez (SWE) on 54.81, 0.07sec ahead of defending champion Britta Steffen (GER).
The last heat ended with four hands pummelling the pads as one. Camille Muffat (FRA) got the edge, on 54.35, with Commonwealth champion Alicia Coutts (AUS) and Tang Yi (CHN) on 54.37 and Francesca Halsall (GBR) on 54.38. All of which added up to Steffen being the one to close the door to the top 16, on 54.87, before announcing her withdrawal. Veronika Popova (RUS) will get the place.
Qualifiers: 53.75 - 54.86 - Heemskerk, Ottesen, Kromowidjojo, Vollmer, Muffat, Kukla, Coutts, Tang, Halsall, Herasimenia, Vanderpool, Coughlin, Poon, Marko-Varga, Fagundez, (Steffen), Popova.
Men's 200m backstroke
The first of the fast heats, the second of four, produced half of the final as contenders sought to leave nothing to chance when knowing that 16 men would race after them.
Tyler Clary (USA) set the pace at 1:56.32 ahead of Peter Bernek (HUN), on 1:57.23, and Kazuki Watanabe(JPN), on 1:57.32, Poland's Radoslaw Kawecki the last man inside 1:58, on 1:57.97.
Next up, Olympic and former world champion Ryan Lochte clocked 1:57.34 to finish 0.03sec up on Zhang Fenglin (CHN). The last line-up knew that anything over 1:58 would place them, was a risk too far. Stanislav Donets (RUS), killing all off each wall with some fine underwater work, came home in 1:57.30, 0.28sec ahead of Ryosuke Irie (JPN), the last man of the morning inside 1:58, with Nick Dreibergen (NED) on 1:58.10.
Qualifiers: 1:56.32 - 1:58.48 - Clary, Bernek, Donets, Lochte, Zhang, Irie, Watanabe, Kawecki, Driebergen, Oriwol, Toumarkin, Ranfagni, De Deus, Lebherz, Stasiulis, Pinzon.
Women's 200m breaststroke
If Rebecca Soni (USA) can avoid the elephant that fell on her back down the last lap of the final in Rome two years ago, it is almost impossible to see her coming away from the final tomorrow with anything other than a second gold medal of the meet. In 2:23.30, smooth and technically superb, the Dave Salo-trained talent was a class apart. In her wake in the last of five heats, came two women among those who make up the closest threat, Yuliya Efimova (RUS), on 2:25.98, and former Olympic champion and world record holder Amanda Beard, who has seen 2:22 territory in her time and this morning progressed to semis on 2:26.73. Sixth in the last heat was defending champion Nadja Higl (SRB), on 2:27.39.
The first of the faster heats saw Rikke Pedersen (DEN) dominate in 2:25.86, ahead of Canada's Martha McCabe, 2:27.16. Her teammate and world record holder Annamay Pierse took the 4th heat in 2:27.14, 0.03sec ahead of Sun Ye (CHN) and Rie Kaneto (JPN). Last in to the final was Stacey Tadd (GBR), on 2:27.88.
With Soni on the hunt, Pierse's 2:20.12 world mark, set in semis in Rome two years ago, is among the most vulnerable of the shiny suit world records that made 2010 the first year in swimming history since records began in which no global standards (long-course being the premier count since 1956 and short-course marks non-existent until 1991) fell.
Qualifiers: 2:23.30 - 2:27.88 - Soni, Pedersen, Efimova, Beard, Garcia, Foster, Pierse, McCabe, Sun, Kaneto, Higl, Back, El Bekri, Leclusye, Boggiatto, Tadd
Men's 200m breaststroke
The pace of qualification took of in the fifth of eight heats, Giedrius Titenis (LTU) on 2:10.33, Glenn Snyders (NZL) on 2:12.38 and Igor Borysik (UKR) on 2:13.17.
Next up and lane 5 was empty, Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) opting out of his last of three events here, the 100m having delivered gold in the swiftest textile time in history against a backdrop of tragic news from his homeland. Defending champion Daniel Gyurta (HUN) was safety through at the helm, on 2:10.78, ahead of a 2:11.51 for Canadian comebacker Mike Brown, with Melquiades Alvarez (ESP) on 2:11.86. Britain-based Laurent Carnol (LUX) clocked 2:12.56, with 2:12.69 the time shared byLennart Stekelenburg (NED) and Choi Kyu Woong (KOR).
After Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) found himself edged out by Britain's Michael Jamieson (GBR) 2:11.06 to 2:11.17, a second Brit, Andrew Willis a hand away on 2:11.59, Christian Vom Lehn (GER) claimed the last heat in 2:10.67, 0.1sec up on Eric Shanteau (USA), Neil Versfeld (RSA) on 2:12.54, with fastest entry in the field Naoya Tomita (JPN) scraping into semis on 2:12.73, Akos Molnar (HUN) 0.05sec slower as the last man through.
Qualifiers: Titenis, Vom Lehn, Shanteau, Gyurta, Jamieson, Kitajima, Brown, Willis, Alvarez, Snyders, Versfeld, Carnol, Stekelenburg, Choi, Tomita, Molnar.
Women's 4x200m freestyle
The USA, Canada, Hungary, China, Great Britain, Australia, France and New Zealand all through, Japan and Germany among those locked out. All change tonight for most squads. The USA have two to replace after a fine 7:50.46 effort this morning from Melissa Franklin (1:56.98), Katie Hoff (1:57.01), Jasmine Tosky (1:59.20) and Dagny Knutson (1:57.27).