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US Stars Earn Their Stripes At The Helm

Jul 30, 2011  - Craig Lord

No Crocker, no Cavic and an historic third title in 50.71. A world fit for a Michael Phelps who much have said "I need to do more training" more times this week than he has world championship gold medals: that's 24 now, with another one expected tomorrow in the medley relay for a total tally in Shanghai of four gold  - 100, 200 'fly, 4x200m free, 4x100 medley - and two silvers - 200m freestyle, 200m medley behind Ryan Lochte.

The former shadow (as if) now man mountain, Lochte races for a fifth gold medal in the 400m medley today before "going away to get ready for London [2012 Olympic Games]. 

As for Phelps, the 'fly fight three years after the other China countdown that ended in victory by 0.01sec over Cavic before a suits slog with the same Serb in the arena of Rome in 2009, was "definitely more comfortable having this than having a hundredth win".

Even so, he wasn't best pleased with the time. I thought I was going faster," he said. In all, it's been an OK week. There will be a lot of helpful things I can work on for next year. It's really more about doing the times you want to do. I hit pretty much all of them except this one [100 fly]."

Meantime, Missy Franklin, 16, looked like a girl who is going to hit a few targets herself in the years ahead after a towering session that delivered a 2:05.10 victory over 200m backstroke and a bring-it-home freestyle leg in a US medley relay that mauled all-comers and the textile clock. 

Franklin's backstroke performance was sensational, a riot of rolling skill hidden behind a mask of forward motion that appeared to feel no turbulence even when the teenager proved herself not only fast but a racer ready to respond to any peripheral hint of threat in the lanes alongside her. When Belinda Hocking put her foot down, Franklin put on a surge that had the feel of an upside-down water polo player sculling clear of a troublesome elbow.

Franklin has three golds and five medals in all and a 1:55.08 200m free split that will surely not have escaped the notice of Federica Pellegrini (ITA) even in the maelstrom of the broken love affair with Luca Marin that is making big headlines back home.

"I totally made sure I came in here and left everything in the pool, and I did," Franklin said, flashing a wide smile that revealed a set of braces. "I'm thrilled." Some big names chimed in to praise the freshness that Franklin has brought to USA Team dynamics.

“She’s really happy and excited to race, moreso than any other swimmer on the team,” said Natalie Coughlin. “All of us are trying to mimic that as much as possible. Missy is very, very unique. She’s got the maturity to handle the pressure.”

Phelps, on the Olympic team and in a final at 15 and 16 when he made his first world-titles team and was in Fukuoka to witness the towering achievement s of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett that year, said: “I kinda remember myself being like that. Full of energy all the time, always happy, never tired, always swimming fast. . . . She’ll remember this for a long time.”

So will Cesar Cielo when it comes to Shanghai and the backdrop to events that culminated in his retaining the 50m freestyle crown by the biggest winning margin in the history of the dash. Cielo has been at the eye of a storm here in Shanghai, the caffeine pills he took back in May contaminated with the banned diuretic furosemide. While other swimmers have received suspensions of up to two years for testing positive for the same substance, CAS accepted the the sprinter and three other Brazilians had not intended to cheat.

Whistles came from the crowd when Cielo appeared for the race and applause was muted after his win. The Brazilian celebrated by punching the air and shaking hands with teammate Bruno Fratus in the next lane. "Coming out of this world championship with two golds and a fourth place, I think is a better situation than what I imagined two weeks ago," said Cielo.

FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu spoke to reporters earlier in the day and criticised World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) rules and said athletes' anger over the case was understandable.

Some swimmers have expressed unhappiness at the ruling and Kenya's Jason Dunford gave the "thumbs-down" gesture after Cielo's earlier victory in the 50m butterfly.

Asked whether he could understand the response, Marculescu told reporters: "Yes, I do. Yes, it's normal. The people feel frustrated. What can I say?" The director said that FINA would raise the case with WADA, complaining that revised guidelines had led to confusion among athletes and allegations of unfair treatment.

Cielo was represented in the case by Howard Jacobs, a leading American sports lawyer who previously defended US swimmer Jessica Hardy and disgraced athlete Marion Jones. "It's very complicated. In the past it was simple... you have the substance, it's your problem with how it gets in your body," Marculescu told reporters.

"Today the new code is like going to the civil court: you have a good lawyer and you are out. You have a bad lawyer, you are in," he added on a day when FINA introduced a biological passport scheme in which blood samples will be stored for longitudinal profiling of athletes.

Among those who have given blood are Lochte and world 800m record holder and Olympian champion of 2008 Rebecca Adlington (GBR) who emerged the victor of an eye-balling battle with defending champion Lotte Friis (DEN) over 800m freestyle, both well inside 8:20, the 8:16.22 textile best of Janet Evans (USA) on notice like its never been in a world stripped of suits now banned.

"We've always raced against each other and it's always been, 'One does it one year, one does it the next year,' but I hope to god it's me next year," Adlington said. "All I was thinking was, 'I get to lie on a beach for like 10 days. I get to go on holiday. Just put my head down, it doesn't matter if I ache - I can lie on a beach for 10 days now'." A short break will be her first holiday in two years.

Seven days down but no rest for Phelps, no more in need of a back to his chair on the way to a London 2012 Olympic swansong. "I'm not in the right shape physically. I want to be faster. It's a tough race," Phelps said. "Sometimes I need to judge what I can do better. I need definitely to push in the first 50 metres. I'll work on my next game. I'll watch some races and think about how I can be faster."

The rest of the world will be thinking familiar thoughts too as the US confirms with every passing day of a meet that had a slow-start feel to it for the Americans that its reputation as swimming superpower is entirely justified, its shoal rolling through the meet like Lochte and Phelps roll into and out of walls, momentum a magnet to further success. The power of habit and the ability to harness hope to the wheels of expectation know no bounds.  

The medals after 7 days, with 20 nations having won a podium prize so far. 

  • USA 12   4   7   23 
  • CHN  4    2   7   13 
  • BRA  3    0    0    3 
  • AUS   2    7    2   11 
  • ITA    2     3   0    5 
  • FRA   2    2    5    9 
  • DEN  2     1    0    3 
  • NED  2     0    2    4 
  • RUS  1     2    0    3 
  • GBR  1     2    0    3 
  • HUN  1     0    2    3 
  • BLR   1     0     0    1 
  • KOR  1     0     0    1 
  • NOR  1     0     0    1 
  • JPN    0     4     1    5 
  • CAN  0     2     1     3 
  • POL    0     1     0     1 
  • SWE  0      1     0     1 
  • GER  0      0     4     4 
  • RSA  0       0     2     2 
  • TOT 35     31    32   98
  • Tie for 1st men 100 back 
  • Tie for 1st women 100 free