Five things we learned from the swimming world championships, which closed Sunday night in Shanghai ...
1. It's game on for Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. They will take the battle for the title of World's Best Swimmer into London. The issue of whether or not Lochte, who beat Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley for the first time and won six golds at the Pan Pacific Championships last summer, could best his friend on the world stage has been answered. He did it twice, beating Phelps in the 200 freestyle and setting a world record in the 200 IM on the way to four individual gold medals and a gold and a bronze in the relays. Yet Phelps, who won four golds, two silvers and a bronze in Shanghai, tried to put an asterisk on Lochte's wins by saying over and over again that he was not in peak shape. "I didn't win because I wasn't as prepared as I should have been," said Phelps after the IM. Given that he has only been training consistently for the last eight months, Phelps' performances in Shanghai, including wins in the 100 and 200 butterfly and a personal best in the 200 IM, were impressive. "With the preparation I've had, I'm fairly satisfied," Phelps said of his week. "Everything that went on here will be motivation for next year." Phelps will presumably spend most of the next 12 months training hard. But Lochte won't be sitting idle, waiting for Phelps' fitness to catch up. He too, left Shanghai dissatisfied and motivated. "I know I can go faster," Lochte said after winning the 200 backstroke. "There are a lot of things I can work on."
2. The rise of Missy. Lochte and Phelps will be sharing the Olympic spotlight with teenage phenom Missy Franklin. The 6-foot-1 high school junior from Centennial, Colo., who just turned 16 in May, blossomed from enthusiastic rookie to star of the women's team with five spectacular performances this week. Having qualified for the team in just two events -- the 200 backstroke and the 4x100 free relay -- Franklin posted times in the 100 free, 200 free and 100 back during the year that forced U.S. coaches to consider her for the other relays and the 50 back. Franklin made the most of her opportunities, first by swimming the second leg of the silver-medal-winning 4x100 free relay in 52.99, the second-fastest split of the field. The youngest 50 back finalist by three years, she earned a bronze in that event before delivering a 4x200 free relay leadoff leg of 2:05.90, which would have won the individual 200 free. But the night she called the happiest of her life was Saturday, when she won the 200 back in 2:05.10, breaking the American record she had set in the semifinal the night before, and followed that 90 minutes later with the anchor freestyle leg in the gold-medal winning medley relay, which also set an American record. "I just wanted to make sure I came in here and left absolutely everything in the pool, and I did that," she said later. "I'm thrilled."
3. The American women will be a force in London. Two years after producing a paltry two world titles in Rome, the women won eight gold medals in Shanghai, matching the U.S. men. A highlight was their world-record-threatening victory in the medley relay, a race they hadn't won in a major international competition since 2000. The women now have what the U.S. men no longer have now that backstroker Aaron Peirsol and breaststroker Brendan Hansen have retired: one of the world's best swimmers in each stroke. They include Natalie Coughlin, a two-time Olympic champion in the 100 back who came in third in that event in Shanghai; two-time 100 breaststroke world champion Rebecca Soni; newly minted 100 fly world champion Dana Vollmer; and Franklin, who posted a blistering 52.79 freestyle leg in the medley. Women's coach Jack Bauerle called the relay results -- two golds and a silver -- "unbelievably encouraging. It hasn't been like this since 2000 when we won all three. They're going to get better. That's not as fast as were going to go."
4. The world records set during the high-tech suit era of 2008-2009 aren't as untouchable as we thought. Two marks went down in Shanghai -- Lochte set a new mark of 1:54.00 in the 200 IM and China's teenaged phenom Sun Yang swam a 14:34.14 in the 1500 free, eclipsing Aussie Grant Hackett's 10-year-old mark of 14:34.56, the oldest long-course record in the books. Several others marks were threatened, including the men's and women's 200 backstrokes (Lochte fell just over a second short of Peirsol's mark from 2009, while Franklin came within .19 of the 2009 mark set by Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe); the women's 100 breaststroke (in the semifinals Rebecca Soni came within a half-second of Jessica Hardy's 1:04.45 from Rome); the women's 100 butterfly (Vollmer's 56.87 was just .81 short of the 2009 record set by Sarah Sjoestroem); and the women's medley relay (the USA was just .17 seconds off).
5. Missy Franklin wasn't the only new face to emerge at worlds. Though he trains in Australia with Hackett's former coach, Denis Cotterell, the tall (6-6) and boyish Sun, who also won a gold in the 800 free, a silver in the 400 and a bronze in the 4x200 free relay, is destined to become a star in China. And whether or not Ian Thorpe, Australia's most decorated Olympic champion, makes a successful comeback after a four-year retirement, the Dolphins will have a star in London in 20-year-old sprinter James Magnussen, who shares a nickname with Franklin: the Missile. He began his meet with a blazing 47.49 leadoff leg in the Aussies' gold-medal-winning 4x100 free relay, the fastest 100 free in a textile suit, then won the 100 free with a time of 47.63. In the medley relay, he nearly caught U.S. anchor Nathan Adrian in the final meters before touching in 47 flat. After the freestyle relay, U.S. head coach Eddie Reese admitted he had been worried most about Australian anchor Eamon Sullivan, but after seeing Magnusson's split he said, "He scares me more now."
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