World Cup, 2012, last round, Singapore.
Hungarian Katinka Hosszu had the $100,000 World Cup prize for best woman in her grasp after two more victories at the start of the final round of the circuit in Singapore today. Her lead is unassailable after 37 wins so far, with more to come this weekend before she collects the big cheque.
If Hosszu can no longer be caught, Kenneth To (AUS) has all but won the $100,000 for men. He took a stroke nearer to winning the top prize with a 51.50 win in the 100m medley ahead of George Bovell (TRI), on 51.69, Townsend third beyond 53sec.
First up today, Hosszu clocked 8:21.94 to win the 800m freestyle ahead of Alanna Bowles (AUS), on 8.22.70, Jessica Pengelly (RSA) in the battle all the way and ending with bronze in 8:22.81. Two races later, Hosszu returned to take the 200m free in 1:53.57, followed by Angie Bainbridge (AUS), on 1:54.28, and the winner's teammate Zsuzsanna Jakabos on 1:54.34.
After a decent break for the busy Hungarians, they were both back for the 200m medley. By the half-way turn, Jakabos led Hosszu. The same going into freestyle, Hosszu fighting back but Jakabos determined not to led her teammate get the better of her once more. The effort of a 2:06.41 left Jakabos barely able to smile, Hosszu settling for a rare silver on this tour on 2:06.78, the rest back beyond 2:09 plus.
Hosszu finished her penultimate day of a lucrative tour with third place in the 200m backstroke. The race went to Melissa Ingram in 2:04.93 ahead of Jenny Mensing (GER), on 2:05.74, Hosszu on 2:07.80.
In other action, the 100m freestyle saw Tomasso D'Orsogna, on 47.03, touch out Aussie teammate Cameron McEvoy, on 47.20, with Darian Townsend (RSA) third in 47.53.
Beyond wins for Jessica Hardy (USA) in the 100m breaststroke (1:05.58 over 1:05.77 for Aussie Sarah Katsoulis) and Christian Sprenger (AUS) in the breaststroke dash, Townsend was back for battle soon after in the 400m medley. He took the race in 4:09.24, Australian Travis Mahoney a touch away on 4:09.75, New Zealand's Mitchell Donaldson third in 4:15.98.
In the 100m butterfly for women, Jeanette Ottesen (DEN) turned first in 26.83 at the 50m and held on for a solid 57.75 win ahead of Tao Li (SIN), on 58.33, and Inge Dekker (NED), on 58.66.
Stanislav Donets (RUS) pulled himself into the money (top three potential) with a 49.82 win in the 100m backstroke ahead of Australians Robert Hurley, on 50.31, and Ashley Delaney, on 50.69.
Hurley (AUS), the backstroke final behind him, took the 400m freestyle in 3:41.01 ahead of Matthew Stanley (NZL), on 3:42.17, the Dolphins on the podium once more as Jarrod Killey stopped the clock in 3:43.92.
In a league of his own, Kazuya Kaneda (JPN) dominated the 200m butterfly for a 1:52.23 victory ahead of Chris Wright (AUS), on 1:57.03 and the last man inside 2 minutes, the standard of the final for a "World Cup" something that ought to have organisers working hard on improvements to the format of the circuit for the future.
Meanwhile, swimmers were full of praise to the big fish who has swum off into a different pool having made a big impact on the sport. With a nod to Mr Phelps, Hardy told reporters. "Michael is like the Michael Jordan of our sport. He has totally changed it. There are more fans, more media and everyone's more excited whenever he's competing."
Her teammate Anthony Ervin, Olympic champion in 2000 over 50m free when Phelps was a 15-year-old finishing 5th in the 200m butterfly final, added: "When I was swimming, Michael was about 15. Granted, the sport was already growing then, but he was definitely the catalyst for it exploding."
USA Swimming posted the largest membership growth - 11.2 per cent - in its history in 2009, the year after Phelps' eight-gold-medals feat at the 2008 Games in Beijing. In 2005, it was just 7.2 per cent.
Sprenger, Olympic silver medallist in the 100m breaststroke at London 2012, noted: "A lot of people go for just one event at the Olympics, but Michael showed that swimming multiple events is possible even in modern-day swimming. It was very motivational just to see how he can perform, how he backs up after races. He showed us that anything is possible."
After his dash win in Singapore today, Sprenger was back in the 200m breaststroke. Sean Mahoney (USA) set the pace all the way to a 2:06.17. Sprenger took silver in 2:06.98, his Aussie teammate Jeremy Meyer bronze in 2:08.72.
A footnote to events:
The FINA live stream was not quite "live" today and had be look in a different direction. I confess to having switched the official live stream off about half-way through the programme: too painful to listen to, the knowledge not what it should be, context sometimes woefully lacking, the mention of "great performance", "super, super swim", "excellent" "very impressive" and even "phenomenal" dropped in all too often when those terms most certainly ought to have been left out. Promoting the sport is one thing but such costly operations should be more than PR and going through the media motions.
The World Cup, entries and standards confirm consistently, still has a very long way to go to get beyond its status of a fine platform for race-training exercises. Perhaps that is all it will ever be. No problem - as long as you don't talk it up to something it is not.
When Britta Steffen (GER) clocked 24.10 to win the freestyle dash ahead of Hardy, no-one in world swimming was surprised (she's been winning the free sprints consistently on this tour and is third on the money because of that) - expect the man on live stream, it seems. He went into great detail about how Steffen had swum the 200m free heats (1:55) and then withdrew from the final "strategically to give herself a better chance in the 50m free". The strategy worked a treat, he noted, adding" "I would have looked a little bit silly explaining all of that if it hadn't". No fear sir, Steffen, Olympic 50m and 100m champion in 2008 and never a player in world waters when it came to 200m, set out on tour noting that she would focus ONLY on the 50m and 100m free and will focus almost exclusively on the 50m in international waters this coming season.
When you tune into soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball, and so on, at world level, you know those talking you through things know what they're on about. You even learn something on a fairly regular basis. Swimming has yet to get it when it comes to the money and effort spent on "official" coverage of events. It really is (and ought to be) about more than reading a list off a start sheet and saying "fantastic".
There is talking things up - and working to have something talk for itself.