July 24, 2011
WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
The rest of the world caught up with the United States swimming powerhouse on Sunday at the XIV FINA World Aquatic Championships at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China.
While the U.S. could manage only a silver and bronze in one of its marquis men’s relay events, the rest of the world put on a show on opening day of the most-watched sport at the championships.
In one of the biggest upsets of the men’s competition, Australia’s inexperienced men’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay team, anchored by former world record holder Eamon Sullivan and two newcomers, won the gold medal in three minutes and 11.0 seconds. France took the silver in 3:11.14. The U.S. finished in 3:11.96.
The Aussies had not won the event at the world championships since 2001 and was not expected to even challenge for the gold medal. It was the first time the U.S. had failed to win the event since the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne.
They knocked off France and the American team that included Michael Phelps and Jason Lezak. Phelps, competing in the first of seven events, led off the relay and put the U.S. in second place after touching after Aussie James Magnussen (47.49 leg) but after that it was all downhill for the U.S. They were joined by teammates Matthew Targett and Matthew Abood celebrating behind the blocks.
“It’s tough not starting off how we want to, it’s frustrating,” Phelps told reporters. “I said I wanted to be faster than I was last year and I was faster than I was last year. It stinks but I think it will give us a little bit of motivation for the rest of the meet.”
The Aussies led from start to finish. U.S. anchor leg Nathan Adrian was almost a second behind the Aussies. Garrett Weber-Gale (48.33) and Jason Lezak (48.15) had the slowest splits.
Said Sullivan: “We knew we weren’t going to be in the mix on paper. We knew we had the experience and the young ones to surprise people.”
“I don’t know if angry was the right word but they weren’t happy,” U.S. men’s coach Eddie Reese said. “This wasn’t a very good relay for us. Why? We call it human beings. We had splits that were not at all like we thought they would be.
“This is something we need to take care of now. It’s over. All we want to do is try and get these guys to swim on that relay and get them better for the next event.”
The U.S. women’s relay team of Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin, Jessica Hardy and Dana Vollmer) didn’t win either, finishing second in 3:34.47. Franklin, 16, had the fastest split (52.99).
The Netherlands won the women’s 4×100-meter relay (3:33.96) with the same four swimmers, Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Marleen Veldhuis and Femke Heemskerk, who took the title at the 2008 Olympic Games and 2009 World Championships. Germany was third in 3:36.05.
In other finals, Olympic champion Park Tae Hwan of South Korea won the men’s 400-meter freestyle, just two years after failing to make the final in Rome. He swam in Lane One. China favorite Sun Yang was second in 3:43.24 and Germany’s Paul Biedermann was third in 3:44.14. American Peter Vanderkaay was fourth in 3:44.83.
Italian 2009 gold medalist Federica Pellegrini won the women’s title in the 400-meter freestyle in 4:01.97. She became the first pool swimmer to defend her world title. Britain’s Rebecca Adlington, after barely making finals, took silver in 4:04.01 and Camille Muffat of France was third in 4:04.06. American Katie Hoff was seventh in 4:08.22.
“The last two years were difficult for me because of the loss of my coach (Alberto Castagnetti) but I still managed to win this gold and this gives me confidence,” Pellegrini said.
In the semifinals of the women’s 100-meter butterfly, Dana Vollmer set an American record in 56.47. She bettered her own record by 47/100ths of a second. She was under world record pace at the 50-meter mark. The top eight swimmers in each of Sunday’s semifinals will compete in Monday night’s final.
In front of an adoring crowd, China took it all, going a record-breaking ten-for-ten in gold medals, never done in the history of the world championships.
It was the first time since 1982 that a single country had swept all the diving titles a a world championships. Even more impressive is that in 1982 the U.S., led by Greg Louganis, won all four golds while in Shanghai China won 10.
Chinese great Qiu Bo won the final gold medal in the men’s 10-meter platform final.
“I’m really happy to win back the world championships title for China,” Qiu said.
Defending champion Tom Daley of Great Britain did not make the medal podium and finished fifth.
“I did two good dives and I am very satisfied,” Daley said. “There is a big gap between me and Qiu Bo. I am really excited for the Olympics because it will be held in our country. My dream is to win a gold medal there.”
Qiu totaled 585.45 points for the six-dive final
In a surprise, American David Boudia took the silver medal with 544.25, the only medal won by the U.S. Sascha Klein of Germany won the bronze with 534.50.
“It’s always very tough to compete with the Chinese,” Boudia said. “It was good to hear teammates cheer for me. I had a good time training and competing here.”
The United States, Montenegro, Spain and Germany all kept their medal hopes alive making it to the quarterfinal round. Spain, leading 7-2, held off Australia, 9-8, to reach the quarterfinals. Montenegro, which missed the top eight two years ago in Rome, beat Romania, 8-4; the U.S. topped Canada, 17-4, and Germany defeated Japan, 8-6; Kazakhstan beat China, 8-7; and Brazil defeated South Africa, 7-4. The U.S. (2-2) scored seven consecutive goals to take control of the game early. In women’s play, Canada (3-0) meets China (3-1) in Monday night’s quarterfinals.
China leads the medal count with 22 including ten gold and eleven silver. Russia is second with 13, seven gold and three silver, and Germany is third with 10 including six bronze medals. The United States are fourth with five medals, only one gold.
The swimming will be televised on Sunday, 2-4 p.m., July 30, 1-3 p.m. and July 31, 1-3 p.m. all on NBC. Also Universal Sports is televising the full meet at universalsports.com. There is a feature on the website where you plug in your zip code and it will tell you which TV service is showing the world championships in your neighborhood.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com