ROME – Aaron Peirsol and the Americans’ 800m free relay won gold and set world records Friday at the 2009 FINA World Championships.
Peirsol’s victory came in the men’s 200m backstroke, where he shattered his former mark in this event by 1.16 seconds, turning in a time of 1:51.92. Later in the evening, Michael Phelps, Ricky Berens, David Walters and Ryan Lochte combined for a time of 6:58.55 in the men’s 800m free relay, edging the mark set by the U.S. last year at the Olympic Games by a hundredth of a second.
Peirsol and the men’s 800m free relay accounted for two of the four medals won by Team USA on the sixth day of competition. Ryan Lochte took bronze behind Peirsol in the men’s 200m backstroke in 1:53.82, and Eric Shanteau took silver in the men’s 200m breaststroke in 2:07.65.
The Americans’ medal count in the pool after Friday’s session stands at 16 – seven gold, four silver and five bronze. The U.S. leads all countries in gold medals and in the overall medal count.
Besides the two American swims, four other world records were set Friday at Stadia Del Nuoto.
Germany’s Britta Steffen broke the first in the women’s 100m freestyle, her time of 52.07 15-hundredths of a second faster than the world record she set leading off Germany’s 400m free relay on the first night of competition. The Netherlands’ Marlene Veldhuis set a world record (25.28) in the first heat of the semifinals of the women’s 50m butterfly, only to have that mark broken in the second heat by Sweden’s Therese Alshammar (25.07). Then Serbia’s Milorad Cavic broke Michael Phelps' world record in the semifinals of the men’s 100m butterfly in 50.01.
In addition to the world records, Cullen Jones set an American record in the semifinals of the men’s 50m free in 21.40. It was just one-hundredth of a second faster than the former American record, set by Jones in July at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
The Men’s 200m Back
Peirsol took the lead at the start of the 200m back and was three-tenths ahead of world record pace at the first turn. Teammate Ryan Lochte took the lead by 12-hundredths of a second over Peirsol at the 100-meter mark, only to have Peirsol pull ahead again in the third length.
As he headed home, Peirsol built about a body-length lead on the rest of the field. Japan’s Ryosuke Irie was second in 1:52.51, while Lochte was third in 1:53.82.
“That was a piece of cake,” Peirsol said. “It felt really good. I’ve had this sort of time in my mind for a while and have been waiting to do it for a long time. I’ve kind of been struggling in this race lately. I don’t know if it’s mental, physical or what, but tonight I pushed through it. “
Peirsol’s swim was a bit of redemption for him after misjudging his race in the semifinals of the 100m back earlier in the week and failing to qualify for the finals of that event.
“I was motivated,” Peirsol said. “My mind was so fresh. I think maybe not doing the 100 let me focus all my energy on this race. I’ve had a lot of waiting around to do during this meet, and to swim so well in that final makes me feel really good. The adrenaline rush did not last long, though. I am hurting right now.”
The Men’s 800m Free Relay
The U.S. finished the first leg of the men’s 800m free relay about two seconds behind Germany, but Ricky Berens quickly gained ground and took a body-length lead by the end of the second leg. Teammate David Walters held on to that lead, and then Ryan Lochte held off the charging Russians in the final 100 meters of the race for the win.
Russia took silver in 6:59.15, followed by Australia in 7:01.65.
“These guys all swam unbelievable legs,” Phelps said. “It was all because of these guys. I was about a half-second off what I split in Beijing, and I wasn’t too pleased (with myself). But this relay is all about team.”
Walters was swimming in his first relay final representing the U.S. in an international competition and said he overswam the first half of his leg.
“I was naïve, out of control,” Walters said. “There’s a lot to improve, a lot I can learn from it. It was definitely one of the more painful races of my career.”
“These guys set it up, and I just tried not to mess it up for them,” Lochte said. “In the final length, I turned and saw the Russians and thought, ‘This is not going to be easy.”
Berens praised his teammates’ efforts.
“For Lochte to have a tough double like that and bring it home like he did was incredible,” Berens said.
Men’s 200m Breaststroke
Shanteau finished second behind Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta in the men’s 200m breaststroke by one hundredth of a second. Shanteau swam a strong race, keeping in contact with the field over the course of the first 100 meters and then making his move.
By the end of the third length, he was in second place. As he went stroke-for-stroke with several swimmers down the stretch, he came up long at the wall and was out-touched by Gyurta as he glided to the finish. Giedrius Titenis of Lithuania was third in 2:07.80.
Women’s 200m Breaststroke
Rebecca Soni led the field in the women’s 200m breast by more than a body length for most of the race, and was 1.55 seconds ahead of world record pace at the 100 meter mark. She was 1.22 seconds ahead of world record pace at the final turn, but somewhere about halfway down the homestretch, she hit a wall.
Serbia’s Nadia Higl, Canada’s Annamay Pierse and Austria’s Mirna Jukic passed her in the final five to 10 meters, taking the gold (2:21.62), silver (2:21.84) and bronze (2:21.97) in order. Soni finished fourth in 2:22.15.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Soni said. “Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned, and tonight was a prime example of that. This is just one of those races you learn from.”
Women’s 100m Free
Steffen’s world record in tonight’s finals of the women’s 100m free bested the rest of the field by almost a second. Fran Halsall of Great Britain was second in 52.87, while Libby Trickett of Australia was third in 52.93. Americans Amanda Weir and Dana Vollmer finished fourth and fifth, respectively, with times of 53.12 and 53.30.
Weir set the American record twice in this event, once in the prelims (53.20) and once again in the semifinals (53.02).
The world record was broken twice in the semifinals of the women’s 50m butterfly, once in the first heat by Veldhuis and then again in the second heat by Alshammar. American Christine Magnuson finished 15th in the semifinals and will not be swimming in Saturday’s finals.
Team USA’s Cullen Jones and Nathan Adrian qualified fifth and seventh, respectively, for tomorrow night’s finals of the men’s 50m freestyle. Jones set the American record by a hundredth of a second in 21.40, while Adrian turned in a time of 21.46. The top seed is Fred Bousquet of France, who set a meet record in 21.21.
Milorad Cavic and Michael Phelps are the top two qualifiers in what might be the marquee matchup of the meet, the men’s 100m butterfly. Phelps beat Cavic by one-hundredth of a second in the Olympic finals of this event last year in Beijing. Friday, Cavic broke Phelps’ world record, set in July at the U.S. World Championship Trials, by 21-hundredths of a second. Phelps turned in a 50.48 in Friday’s semis. U.S. National Team rookie Tyler McGill – the third-fastest American of all time in this event behind Phelps and three-time Olympian Ian Crocker – will also be in the mix as the eighth seed, qualifying in 51.07.
Americans Elizabeth Beisel and Elizabeth Pelton will both be swimming in Saturday’s finals of the women’s 200m back as the fourth and eighth seeds. Beisel touched in 2:07.48 in tonight’s semis, while Pelton touched in 2:09.57. Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry finished as the top seed in a meet record time of 2:05.86.