ROME, July 26 — Everyone expected the latest, most controversial high-tech swimsuits to have a major impact on these world championships, so the seven championship records set in Sunday morning’s opening preliminary heats was hardly a surprise.
And most assumed Michael Phelps and the U.S. men’s 400-meter freestyle relay team would struggle to topple the powerhouse French squad in Sunday night’s final.
But the suit malfunction that almost derailed Phelps and Co. before the men’s relay squad even got in the pool for the morning’s qualifying round was entirely unexpected.
As Ricky Berens, scheduled to swim third for the U.S. morning swim squad, bent over on the pool deck for a drink of water moments before the race, his suit — a Jaked01 — split significantly in the back, exposing his rear end.
There was no time to change the suit, so U.S. anchor leg Cullen Jones urged Berens to forget the gaping hole and swim.
Berens dived in and contested his third leg as scheduled, helping the U.S. team to a fourth-place finish in its heat in 3 minutes, 11.64 seconds — and securing a critical slot in the night’s final for Phelps and his teammates. Phelps did not swim in the qualifying heat, but will lead off the relay in tonight’s final.
“He still swam his heart out,” Jones said. “To see that kind of professionalism in college; I know I didn’t have it.”
Berens, the 2009 Big 12 Swimmer of the Year from Texas, was not available to comment on the suit problem. Jones, though, said tears were becoming increasingly common as swimmers sought the tightest-fitting suits possible for the greatest performance-enhancement.
“They’re all splitting,” Jones said. “We’re all having problems. We want to get it as tight as possible as sprinters.”
Besides trying to make sure Phelps would have a chance at six gold medals at this meet, Berens, Jones, Matt Grevers and Garrett-Weber Gale also were essentially auditioning for a spot on the squad. Bowman has said Phelps will kick off the final, but otherwise it’s unclear who will race at night. Also in the mix: U.S. 100 free champion Nathan Adrian, runner-up David Walters and Ryan Lochte—who posted a 48.16 in the 100 free preliminaries at the U.S. championships.
“Everyone is trying to get on that relay,” Grevers said. But “there’s never any animosity towards anyone; we’re all friends.”
The U.S. team’s splits: Weber-Gale, 48.30; Grevers, 47.55; Berens, 48.19; Jones, 47.60.
UPDATE: USA Swimming announced later that Phelps, Lochte, Grevers and Adrian would team up in Sunday night’s final.
The Americans were beaten by a Brazilian squad led off by Olympic champ Cesar Cielo, and which finished in 3:11.26. That topped the former meet record of 3:12.72 set by the United States at the 2007 world championships in Melbourne. France finished second Sunday morning in 3:11.38.
Ceilo, however, said he didn’t expect anyone to come close to France in the final.
“The French this year are untouchable,” he said. “I think you are going to have a big window between first and second place.”
A U.S. women’s squad made up of Julia Smit, Kate Dwelley, Caitlin Geary and Christine Magnuson landed the seventh-best time in the morning’s heats to squeeze into the night’s final. They finished in 3:37.02, well behind the Britta Steffen-led German squad (3:34.72).
Kukors Gets American Record
Ariana Kukors set an American and championship record in the 200 individual medley heats this morning, finishing in 2:08.53 seconds, nearly two seconds faster than her personal best and just .08 short of Stephanie Rice’s world record.
The fast time was especially surprising considering that Kukors finished third in the event at the U.S. championships in Indianapolis. She got to swim here only because Towson’s Elizabeth Pelton — who qualified for four events here — elected to focus only on the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke events.
Kukors, who wore a Jaked01, bettered the American mark of 2:09.34 that Julia Smit had set at the U.S. championships just over two weeks ago.
“I felt great,” Kukors said. “I’m really happy with it.”
In the women’s 400 heats, Allison Schmitt approached Katie Hoff’s American record but missed by 0.6 seconds with her finish in 4:02.80, the second-fastest of the morning. She trailed only Italian world-record holder Federica Pelligrini, who also set a championship record with her finish in 4:01.96.
“She definitely set the pace,” said Schmitt, who also swam in a Jaked. “I was just trying to keep up with her.”
Chloe Sutton, 17, a former training partner of Kate Ziegler at the McLean-based Fish, failed to advance to the 400 final with her finish 13th-place finish in 4:10.88. The former open-water specialist also will compete in the 800 and 1,500 freestyle events.
“I’ve been to a lot of world championships, but they’ve all been in open water,” Sutton said. “I’m really happy making the debut in the pool, but I wish the time was a little better.”
Shanteau Continues Hot Summer
Eric Shanteau approached teammate Mark Gangloff’s American record in the 100 breast stroke, finishing third overall in the preliminary round in 59.05—a personal best by .40 seconds and just .04 short of Gangloff’s record. Despite the swift time, Shanteau said he left plenty in the tank for the night’s final.
“I’m not dead right now,” Shanteau said. “I can repeat that 100 more times.”
Shanteau, competing in an Arena X-Glide, said he can’t wait for next year’s suit ban, which will disallow all long-length suits, to take effect— as long as there are no more changes to the policy.
“I’m OK racing in briefs,” he said. “Let’s race in potato sacks. I don’t care; just make up your mind.”
Australian Brenton Rickard scored a championship record with his finish in the 100 breast in 58.98; Frenchman Hugues Deboscq finished second in 59.01. Gangloff, meantime, qualified tenth in 59.67.
Vollmer Ditches Speedo
Despite performing well at the U.S. championships in a Speedo LZR — the hot suit of 2008 — Dana Vollmer joined many of her teammates and switched to the acclaimed Jaked, arguably the hottest suit of ’09. And the switch seemed to pay off; Vollmer swam a personal best in the 100 butterfly heats, finishing in 57.15 seconds, bettering her previous best by .17.
Choosing the suit “was definitely hard,” Vollmer said. “I tried a ton on last week … I think it will be easier [next year] to just put on the same suit as everyone else.”
Vollmer’s time was the second-best of the morning; Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom finished first in 56.76 — the day’s first championships record. Australian Jessicah Schipper posted the third-best time of the morning, 57.17; American Christine Magnuson, swimming in an Arena X-Glide, was fifth in 57.48.
“With these suits, you don’t know who is going to come out of the woodwork,” Magnuson said.
Slow Time From South Korea’s Park
South Korean Park Tae-Hwan, the Olympic champion in the 400 freestyle, failed to qualify for Sunday’s final in that event. Park finished 12th in 3:46.04—more than four seconds slower than he swam at the Olympics last year.
Park blamed his performance on pressure and exhaustion.
“I am very disappointed,” he said. “I expected to swim much faster…. I wanted to go faster in the beginning, but I didn’t manage to. I was too tired.
“I didn’t have enough rest after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. I have been working very hard since 2005 and never had time to rest. Besides, I am feeling under big pressure. This defeat could be good for my future.”
Dan Madwed, a sophomore at the University of Michigan who trained for two years at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, knocked nearly two seconds off of his best time in the 400 free this morning, but just missed a spot in the night’s final with his finish in 3:45.95 — ninth best of the morning. Peter Vanderkaay finished fifth overall in 3:45.40. Germany’s Paul Biedermann posted the fastest qualifying time of 3:43.01.
Americans Fail to Fly in 50 Fly
With Phelps taking a pass on the 50 fly, Americans Tyler McGill and Grevers gave it their best shot. But they didn’t come close to advancing; McGill finished 35th in 23.93; Grevers was 39th overall in 23.98.