WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
August 21, 2010
Ryan Lochte led a dominant U.S. performance Saturday night at the Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, Calif.
The Floridian shined on the fourth and final night by making a run at his world record in the 200-meter individual medley.
The 26-year-old who lives and trains in Gainesville fell just 0.33 seconds short of his own world record as he won his sixth gold medal, the most of any competitor.
Lochte was hoping to become the first swimmer to break a world record since the high-tech bodysuits were banned by FINA in January. Lochte set the world record of 1:54.10 at last summer’s world championships in Rome.
Lochte won in a meet record 1 minutes, 54.53 seconds, finishing ahead of teammate Tyler Clary, who took home his third silver medal in 1:57.61.
It was the fastest time in the world this year and third fastest time ever. The race also earned Lochte the men’s top performance award of the meet.
“That’s absolutely amazing, to come that close to that time non-suited,” Clary said. “I’m hugely proud of him for it.”
Lochte expected this to be his best race and was hoping to back up his victory over Michael Phelps two weeks ago at the national championships. But Phelps scratched from the 200 IM to save himself for the relay and Lochte was wishing the 200 IM had come earlier in the week after an exhausting schedule.
Still, Lochte was on world-record pace after a 24.86 butterfly split and 53.28 100-meter split after the backstroke despite hitting the lane line. He pulled away from the field on the breaststroke (1:26.99) and led by nearly two body lengths on the freestyle.
“I wanted to prove to everyone that my win at nationals wasn’t a fluke,” Lochte said. “I knew I had it in my sight. All the swims I had earlier in the week made me a little tired.
“Man, if I had just taken one or two more dolphin kicks I would have had it,” Lochte said. “It felt good the whole way until the last 20 meters. This is just a stepping stone for the next two years and hopefully to bigger and better things. I am just getting ready.”
On the final night, the U.S. won 13 medals, including six gold, four silvers and three bronze.
Joining Lochte as the women’s top performer of the meet was Rebecca Soni, based on her 200-meter breaststroke performance, also on Saturday night. Soni won in 2:20.69, the sixth fastest time ever and also lowered the 11-year-old meet record.
The United States finished with 47 medals (25 gold, 15 silver, 7 bronze) followed by Australia (25 medals, 4 gold, 12 silver, 9 bronze) and Japan (11 medals, 2 gold, 4 silver and 5 bronze).
The top five finishers were the U.S. with 489.5 points; Australia, 311.5; Japan, 234; Canada, 177; and Brazil, 70. U.S. national team captains Jason Lezak, Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin accepted the crystal team champion cup.
Other final results Saturday night:
Women 200-meter individual medley: Aussie Emily Seebohm chased down world and American record holder Ariana Kukors of the U.S., the morning’s top qualifier, to win gold in a meet record 2:09.93. Kukors took silver in 2:10.25 and U.S. teammate Caitlin Leverenz took bronze in 2:11.21. Seebohm had a half-body length lead on Kukors during the butterfly leg and maintained her lead on the backstroke. Kukors tried to make up ground on the breaststroke, and led briefly going into the wall but Seebohm came on strong in the freestyle to edge Kukors. “This is a big boost for me,” Seebohm said. “I came out tonight and wanted to bust the first 100 and hold on as close as I could. I have good speed in the front and back.”
Women 50-meter freestyle: Sentimental U.S. favorite Jessica Hardy, racing at her first international meet since returning from a doping ban after testing positive for a substance contained in a food supplement, broke the course record in 24.63 to win her third gold medal of the meet. Hardy popped up quickly after the start with straight-arm recovery while building the 50. She surged at the 25-meter mark to touch first. U.S. teammate Amanda Weir was second in 24.70, also dipping under the meet record, and Canadian Victoria Poon was third in 24.76. “I tried to swim my own race,” Hardy said. “I put my head down from the beginning and worked hard. My confidence is getting better and better. These past two years have been really hard. I am really happy to be back and happy with way I am right now.” American Kara Lynn Joyce won the “B” final in 25.26.
Men 50-meter freestyle: America’s new sprint hope Nathan Adrian ran down world champion Cesar Cielo of Brazil, the morning’s top qualifier in 21.64, first breaking the meet record. While Cielo had a faster reaction at the start, Adrian came up head. Cielo moved ahead slightly with Adrian charging in the final five meters to win in a meet record 21.55. Cielo also dipped under the meet record for second in 21.57. Canadian Brent Hayden was third in 21.89. “The last three meters was a scramble to get a hand on the wall,” Adrian said. “Obviously, the start and finish are the most important part of this race. I didn’t know I won when I touched the wall. It was another close one. Hopefully, it establishes America as another sprinting force to be reckoned with. It’s just a great confidence-booster. There’s maybe a little bit of a target on my back and I’ll have to work that much harder.” American record holder Cullen Jones was sixth in 22.10.
Women 200-meter breaststroke: American Rebecca Soni, the top morning qualifier, flirted with the world record but settled for the meet record in 2:20.69, fastest time in the world this year in a textile suit. Aussie Leisel Jones was second in 2:23.23, also dipping under the meet record. World record holder Annamay Pierse of Canada was third in 2:23.65. New mom Amanda Beard, 28, who qualified second (2:25.52) in prelims, was fifth in 2:24.30. Soni took the lead at the 100-meter mark in 1:07.58 and extended her lead to more than a body length in 1:43.91. “I definitely felt the crowd behind me, my nerves were going crazy,” Soni said. “I knew what I wanted to do. Winning this is a great thing, I am really happy with the swim. I am not sure about the world record. It’s the end of the season, maybe next taper season at worlds.”
Men 200-meter breaststroke: Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, the top morning qualifier, was under world record pace at the first wall in 28.80. He continued to look strong at the 100 in 1:01.53 and 1:34.61 at the 150-meter mark before finishing a body length ahead of the field in a meet record 2:08.36. “I am very tired,” Kitajima said. “Frankly, I was worried about the 200. I think I did a very good time and I am happy.” Aussie Brenton Rickard was second in 2:09.97 and American Eric Shanteau was third in 2:10.13.
Women 1500-meter freestyle: American Kate Ziegler led for most of the race until Aussie Melissa Gorman came on in the final 200 meters to win the gold in 16:01.53. Ziegler was second in 16:03.26 and Kriste Kobrich won Chile’s first medal with a third place in 16:06.57. “I was really tired and tried to build into that race,” Gorman said. “I focused on myself and bringing it home. Kate has a lot of speed and I knew she would be out in front. This is really great to continue the Australian distance tradition.”
Men 800-meter freestyle: Canadian Ryan Cochrane, a silver medalist in the 400 freestyle, won in 7:48.71, the second fastest time in the world. The race was never in doubt. American Chad LaTourette was second in 7:51.62 and Takeshi Matsuda was third in 7:51.87. “It’s been a long race, I just wanted to get my hand on the wall first,” Cochrane said. “It’s not about this meet, it’s about two years from now. It’s been a long week and I am pretty tired. I am just surprised that everyone is surprised at me about the 400.”
Women 4×100-meter medley relay: In a thrilling finish, Dana Vollmer brought the U.S. back into contention on the butterfly leg and Jessica Hardy pulled away on the freestyle leg to give the U.S. a meet record in 3:55.23. “This has been really amazing, the girls really stepped up,” Vollmer said. Australia took silver in 3:56.96 and Japan took the bronze in 3:57.75.
Men 4×100-meter medley relay: Phelps saved the day helping to turn back upset-minded and early leader Japan. Japan had nearly a body length lead on the U.S. after Kitajima’s breaststroke leg but a fresh Phelps, who scratched from the 200 IM to save himself for the relay, roared back on the butterfly to take back the lead and Adrian, swimming his first international relay leg, pulled away to ice the win in 3:32.48. Japan hung on for second in 3:33.90 and Australia was third in 3:35.55. “It’s always good to be able to finish with a winning relay,” Phelps said. “We have had some pretty good history in this race and to end the meet in front of our home crowd with a win is great.” Phelps finished with five golds including three on relays.
NBC will televise highlights of the meet on Sunday (5-6 p.m.).
Now the focus turns to the next major international meet for the U.S., the July 16-31, 2011 XIV FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China.
“Every race has been a dogfight,” Phelps said. “We’re having new guys step up and race, having the veterans step up and show some strength and put up some good times. Going into next year, we could very well have one of the strongest World Championship teams we’ve ever had.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com