US Olympic Trials, Omaha, Day 3 Finals:
Women's 100m backstroke
Having warmed up with a 1:58 in the 200m free semi, Missy Franklin, 17, returned to the fray within half an hour to book her first solo berth on the 2012 US Olympic team - and in a world textile-suit record and all-time American mark of 58.85 in the 100m backstroke at that.
Franklin, coached by Todd Schmitz in Colorado, is the third women ever to crack 59sec in the event without the aid of a non-textile bodysuit. Rachel Bootsma took silver and the second US Olympic berth in 59.49, leaving Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin, on 1:00.06 after turning inside world record pace at the 50m, unable to defend her crown, time no longer on her side.
Franklin's standard is one the world must aspire to for victory at London 2012. If the world record of 58.12 set by Britain's Gemma Spofforth in a LZR Racer (50% poly) in 2009 remains the red line to chase, the best in a textile suit had been the 58.94 of Zhao Jing in 2010, with a 58.97 by Anastasia Zueva (RUS) this year the previous world-leading time in Olympic season.
Said Franklin: "I can't put it into words. I have dreamed of this moment for as long as I can remember. I didn't think it would happen when I was 17 but dreams really do come true. It's an unforgettable moment."
Men's 100m backstroke
Matt Grevers had reason to feel the same: on 25.38 just 0.03sec outside the world record held at 51.94 by Aaron Peirsol since he wore a 100% poly suit for the 2009 world crown in Rome, Grevers swam the race of his life so far for a world textile best of 52.08, 0.03sec inside the standard set in 2010 by Frenchman Camille Lacourt. In Omaha, The second berth went to Nick Thoman in 52.86, bronze to David Plummer in 52.98.
Grevers, coached at Tuscon Ford in Arizona by Eric Hansen and former world champion from the 70s Rick Demont, received his gold medal from Adolph Keifer, the Berlin 1936 Olympic champion who celebrated his 94th birthday today. What a moment. Keifer kissed the medal. “He’s a legend in swimming. He gets to do what he wants to do,” said Grevers.
Grevers - who at the Missouri Grand Prix this year invited his girlfriend and fellow swimmer Annie Chandler onto the podium with him to celebrate his victory before he got down on one knee and proposed marriage (she said yes) said: "It is such an honour and this was such a great crowd." On the race he added: "It felt great going out, I didn't expend too much energy. I knew coming home would be good and luckily it was."
Chandler watched her man establish himself as a gold-medal hope in London just before walking out for her own final: she finished 5th in 1:07.28 in the 100m breaststroke.
Grevers is sporting a new body this season, one sculpted in the fires of defeat after he was down and out in 2010 and 2011, missing the cut for national team selection for world titles that season.
"It’s taken me 27 years to learn it all,’’ said Grevers, of Dutch parentage and a 6ft 8in giant who stands tall even in a world where average is not far beneath him. "I’m running, I’m lifting, I’m doing smarter things. You can’t party like you used to. Can’t do a lot of things you used to. You’ve got to be older and wiser."
He added: “You think if you work hard that you’re going to be the best, the harder you work the better results you’re going to get, and that’s not the case. It’s taken me until I’m 27 that you can hit your head against the wall as much as you want, but until you start to think about things, that’s when it’s going to work, so I’m done hitting my head against the wall."
Olympic qualification was marked by big progress. Grevers' top 10 times ever (shiny suits era in italics):
Grevers was not alone in setting a new standard for himself: for Thoman true race marked his first sub 53sec effort in textile suit.
If London marks his second Games, it will be a first for Thoman, who continues a family tradition: his grandfather, Richard Thoman, held the 100yards world record for a time back in the 1950s. The late Cecil Colwin, who passed away this month, once met Thoman's grandfather when visiting Yale in 1952 as a guest of the late, great coach, Bob Kiphuth.
Colwin recalled: "He was a teammate of the famous Yale 'Three M's', namely Jimmy McLane, Wayne Moore and the late John Marshall, the Australian who held every world freestyle record from 200 yards upwards, and who died tragically in a car crash shortly after swimming for Australia in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Dick Thoman came from Chicago where his grandmother, Madame Wurlitzer, was the scion of the Wurlitzer Organ manufacturing family."
Women's 100m breaststroke
In the last final of the evening, Breeja Larson, lanky in limb, long in stroke and untroubled by the moment, tore up the script with a bolting 1:05.92 Olympic-season victory 0.07sec ahead of world champion Rebecca Soni in the 100m breaststroke. Those efforts locked out world record holder Jessica Hardy four years after a positive test that she was pardoned for after inquiry kept her off the USA team for Beijing.
With a crowd of almost 13,000 roaring the race on, Larson swept past Hardy and held off Soni for victory. Realisation was not instant. “I saw about three people (listed). I was like, ‘Which one is it?’” she said. “I heard him announce my name a couple times. I was like, ‘That must be a good thing’.”
Having "taken competitive swimming seriously" only at 17, Larson made her way to the Olympic pool via volleyball, softball and running at Mountain View High in Mesa, Arizona. “I loved all of it and I hated swimming. It was just boring,” Larson said, recalling her summers spent with the Mesa Aquatics Club. Her coach, Brad Hering, told her then that she would make a team. “I was like, ‘Oh, whatever’.”
Larson moved from Mesa to Texas A&M, where coach Steve Bultmer is the man on deck. “I just want Steve to have just as much glory as I do,” Larson told Beth Harris of AP. “He means everything to me. He’s the best coach in the world. I’m so, so happy that I can make him proud and be able to show the world that he’s a wonderful breaststroker coach.”
Soni had no idea where it was all going after a 1:10 to 1:05 drop in a year or so. “She wasn’t expected to make it,” Soni said. “She’s been getting better and better, so I can’t wait to see how far she’s going to take it.” Of her own performance, Soni said pressure had played a part: “It’s a different kind of nerves, it kind of turns into an expectation. That’s a whole new level of pressure. It’s so much easier, looking back four years ago when nobody knew my name. If you didn’t make it, no big deal. But now if I didn’t make it, it would be, ‘Oh why didn’t you make it? Why didn’t you make it?’ I’m really happy, really relieved. Really happy for Bree also.”
Hardy, a whole heap of emotion in tow these past four years, stole herself for better moments to come, saying: "I held it together, really happy with it. I gave it a good shot and I’m lucky I still have some races to go. Just try to stay calm and stay grateful.”
Summer Sanders asked if Larson, of Texas AM, had stopped crying. "Not yet," laughed Larson. "I'm still processing." She had yet to figure out her first reaction to realising she had not only qualified but won the race on the cusp of being considered a gold medal hope in London. Larson has posted swift yards times that did not register beyond the US but in long-course metres she has made an amazing leap by any stretch of the imagination in a 100m race:
Women's 200m freestyle
In the first semi, Megan Romano set off 0.06sec inside world record pace down the first 50, chased by Dana Vollmer and Shannon Vreeland. The pace was 1.15sec adrift Federica Pellegrini's global standard by the half-way turn, and by the last flip Romano and Vollmer were tied on 1:27.32. The hunt for the wall granted Shannon Vreeland the win in 1:57.78, Vollmer on 1:57.81, Romano on 1:57.99.
The target was set for the second semi, featuring Allison Schmitt and Missy Franklin. Schmitt was on 27.50 at the first turn, came off the wall with a strong lead and split 56.33 at the half-way turn, close to her own American record pace. From there, she ploughed on to a 1:55.59 to book lane 4 for the final tomorrow. Franklin clocked 1:58.04 for second, 1:58.64 shutting the door to the final.
Women's 200m medley
After the first semi went to the two Elizabeths, Pelton on 2:11.37 and Beisel, on 2:12.37, Caitlin Leverenz threw down a gauntlet in 2:10.51 ahead of Ariana Kukors, on 2:12.32, and Maya Dirado, on 2:12.62.