Beijing-I am not sure if it's jetlag, smog, or altitude sickness from being up so high, but I can barely see the pool from my position in the press tribune. Of course I'm at the Olympic Games, and really there is no better place to be in the world right now.
A fraction of the water cube's 3500 bubbles are visible from the inside, making the venue pretty much the same as any pool from the inside. Perhaps the haze, which is making me lightheaded, is doing the same to the fans. The Chinese crowd cheers for their own, otherwise the pool was relatively quiet for tonight's opening session.
Men's 400 IM
Michael Phelps (USA) debuted with an Olympic record in the final heat with a 4:07.82, under his time from the Athens final of 4:08.26. In a much more evenly passed race than Ryan Lochte (USA) who won the second seeded heat, Phelps was just on or above his World Record pace throughout while Lochte only turned the burners on for the free leg to touch in 4:10.33. Two others had faster times, which means Lochte races from lane 6 tomorrow morning. On racing Phelps Lochte said, "If I'm right there with him, then that's pressure. It's going to be tough, but I'm going to give him a run for his money."
"I'm pretty surprised," said Phelps about breaking the Olympic record. "I didn't think that I'd be the first to get it, not until the finals. All I know is I wanted to be in the middle of the pool tomorrow."
Laslo Cseh (HUN) is the only man with the potential to beat the Americans. He sits in second spot with a 4:09.26 from the first seeded heat. Luca Marin (ITA) is third with a 4:10.22 but with a 59.42 fly split, he will never get down low enough to be a real contender. Cseh's best time from June is a 4:07.96, but it will take a sub 4:06 to break the American stranglehold on this event; they have swept gold and silver in the 400IM since 1996.
Brian Johns (CAN) and Keith Beavers (CAN) were almost perfect for Canada; Johns qualified for the final in 7th spot, with Beavers 9th. Their times: 4:11.41 and 4:12.75 were both faster than their Olympic Trials performances and for Johns a new Canadian Record. "I'm pretty pleased," said Johns who is the former short course World Record holder in this event. "I just wanted to show that the entire Olympic team is out to compete. We're going to come out with undying Canadian pride and compete." Just 4 years ago the Canadian team was in shambles. It is remarkable how well they have turned around both their spirit and their races. "I like being a leader on this team," Johns continued. "All that means is that I am going to show up, perform well, and lead the best way I know how." Johns lowered the national record held by triple bronze medalist Curtis Myden. Beavers was also under the old record.
Women's 100 Fly
Taking 3 days to complete due to the morning final schedule, the events with semi-finals are more like marathons than sprints. Christine Magnuson (USA) got things started for the women with a 57.70, just off her best from the US Trials and good enough for the second fastest time of the evening. She looked solid, holding her stroke together all the way into the wall. "That was a good first swim and I can build on that," said Magnuson. "I got the bugs out with that swim, I'm very happy. I was just, 'let's get this party started.' It's a lot of fun out there." Countrywoman and 200 specialist Elaine Breeden (USA) closed strongly and touched in 58.06 for 6th spot heading into the semi-final.
The Australians were mixed. Top seed Libby Trickett (AUS) was over a second and a half off her best. She finished in 58.37 for 12th spot. "I was expecting to be faster tonight," said Trickett who was quick to reproach the format for her swim. "Obviously having the heats at night shakes things up a bit." Jessicah Schipper (AUS) set herself up much better, winning the second seeded heat in 57.58 for the top swim of the night. 16th spot went to Jemma Lowe (GBR) with a 58.49.
"I'm pretty happy," said Schipper after her race. "It is always great to get the first race over and done with. A few things went wrong out there, but it's great to know how I have some things to improve in the semi-final."
Men's 400 Free
Lowering his American record set at US Trials, Larsen Jensen (USA) set the pace with his 3:43.10 and lane 4 tomorrow morning. "I hope for the best tomorrow," said Jensen with a smile. "I'm going to have a double shot espresso tomorrow morning and I'll be ready."
It will be a close final as the spread is under 2 seconds. Only Grant Hackett (AUS) at his best swims in clear water. In 2001 Hackett clocked a 3:42.51, but his best this year is 3:43.15. Today he picked up his kick in the final 10 metres to win his heat in 3:44.03 over Peter Vanderkaay (USA) in 3:44.22. While Hackett is the fastest, Jensen is moving his times in the right direction, and Vanderkaay is the turning out to be the quite outside favourite.
Lin Zhang (CHN) got the crowd roaring with his heat win of 3:43.32 over Tae-Hwan Park (KOR) in 3:43.35. Zhang entered the Games ranked 12th in the world, but that swim moves him up to 3rd in this year's rankings. He has been steadily dropping time over the past 3 years while hovering just under 10th place in the world rankings, while Park is the reigning world champ in this event. Ryan Cochrane (CAN) had a fantastic swim lowering his best to a 3:44.85, unfortunately it was just shy of the final. He was 9th by just 3 100ths.
Fifteen year old Elizabeth Beisel (USA) easily won her heat in 4:34.55, which held on to be fast enough for lane 4 tomorrow morning. Beisel is a stud, but it will be a tight race, it took a 3:36.56 to make the final. "I do get a little bit jittery, "said Beisel. "While it's a little nerve racking being the youngest, I'm not really nervous before my race. Tomorrow I'm sure I will really be on edge." Katie Hoff (USA) won the final heat with a 3:34.52.
Although they had each other to race, Stephanie Rice (AUS) and Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) were not as impressive as the Americans. While Coventry took it out, Rice pulled ahead in the breast leg. By the final 25, Rice was cruising along with a nary a 2-beat kick. "I got a chance to get rid of the anxious nerves, get a feel for the routine and crowd, and prepare for tomorrow morning," said Rice.
Men's 100 Breast
Alexander Dale Oen (NOR) looked the fittest and fastest with his win in a new Olympic record of 59.41, while top seed Brendan Hansen (USA) was the opposite. Hansen never seemed to get going, struggling to finish 4th in his heat and 10th overall with a 1:00.36.
Hansen's nemesis, Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) finished well with a 59.52, while Hughes Duboscq won his heat in 59.67
Women's 4x100 Free
China won the first heat in a new national record of 3:36.78. Anchorwoman Jiaying Pang had the fastest split of the event with a 52.83. They haven't swum that fast since their drug- fuelled swims in Rome 1994. They will race from lane 4 tomorrow morning. The Germans were second in the first heat with a 3:37.52, while the Aussies were third in 3:37.81.
The Americans won the second heat in 3:37.53 over the Dutch in 3:37.61. Holland owns the World Record in 3:33.62, which they broke in March of this year. The Canadians broke their national record to qualify 7th in 3:38.82.