The United States safely made it through both preliminaries of the 400-meter medley relay Sunday morning, giving Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte a chance to pick up one more gold medal at the world championships.
The Americans were top qualifier in both the men’s and women’s events using their second-string swimmers. David Plummer, Nic Fink, Eugene Godsoe and Jimmy Feigen topped the men’s preliminaries in 3 minutes, 32.72 seconds. Elizabeth Pelton, Breeja Larson, Claire Donahue and Shannon Vreeland set the pace on the women’s side at 3:58.66.
The Americans’ main goal was not to get disqualified, which happened to both the French and Italian teams in the women’s prelims.
"You don’t want to risk things," said Shannon Vreeland, who was especially careful not to leave too early on the final leg. "You just want to make sure you get a lane (for the final)."
The U.S. will switch up the teams in the evening, giving Franklin a chance to claim her record sixth medal. She is currently tied with Tracy Caulkins and Libby Trickett for most victories by a woman at a world meet.
In the other prelims on the final day of the championships in Barcelona, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu posted the fastest time in the women’s 400 individual medley, with Olympic gold medalist Ye Shiwen of China tying for the third spot. Chase Kalisz of the U.S. led the way in the men’s 400 IM, while teammate Tyler Clary also advanced to the final in third.
Shiwen is coming off a disappointing performance in the 200 IM, where she failed to earn a medal.
The 18-year-old Franklin certainly has nothing to complain about. She’ll swim the opening backstroke leg in the final of the medley relay, looking to join Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and Kristin Otto as the only swimmers to claim at least six victories in either an Olympics or a world meet.
Lochte has three golds and a silver at this championship, despite a lackluster year of training that was interrupted by his reality TV show. He’ll swim the butterfly leg of the final, giving him a good chance to improve a career haul that already includes 15 golds, four silvers and four bronzes at world championships.
The only drama on the men’s side was who would swim the freestyle leg in the morning, and who would get that spot in the evening. Feigen edged out Nathan Adrian in the 100 free but the coaches decided on the Olympic gold medalist for the final.
Feigen had no complaints.
"Nathan has certainly proven himself to be very dependable in these situations," Feigen said. "I’m not really disappointed, to be honest. I think they made the right choice. I trust what the coaches did. I trust Nathan. I’m hoping he’ll get us a gold medal tonight."
Shiwen was worried coming into the second of the events she won at the Olympics. The 17-year-old finished fourth in the 200 IM and acknowledged she wasn’t in the best condition for the championships.
"It was a smoother swim this time," she said through a translator. "I have to put up more of a fight and make sure I do it right. There isn’t enough time to correct my techniques."
The 19-year-old Kalisz is an up-and-comer on the U.S. team. He trains at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club — Phelps’ home base — and is looking to make his mark in an event that his former training partner and Lochte have long dominated.
Phelps is retired — for now — and Lochte is taking at least a year off from the grueling 400 IM, looking to add events that will be easier on his body as he approaches his 30s.
Kalisz posted the top time of 4:11.87, followed by Japan’s Daiya Seto (4:12.96) and Clary (4:13.55).
Clary also has big plans for the 400 IM. He took a silver behind Lochte at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, then didn’t even get to swim the event at the Olympics when Phelps entered and earned the second spot on the team behind Lochte.
"The only thing you can do is focus on yourself," Clary said. "Looking back at how I’ve been swimming that race the last couple of years, I’ve probably been swimming it wrong. I tend to take it out too hard. There’s no such thing as taking a race out too fast, but obviously taking a race out too hard is a bad thing. I focused on keeping everything smooth and easy."
Hosszu pushed the pace in her heat, going to the freestyle leg with a big lead and under world-record pace. But the Hungarian star pulled back noticeably on the final 100, cruising to the wall in 4:32.72.
Spain’s Mireia Belmonte was next at 4:34.64, with Shiwen and Hungary’s Zsuzsanna Jakabos touching together in 4:34.93. Elizabeth Beisel and Madeline Dirado of the U.S. also advanced to the evening final in sixth and seventh, respectively.
Hosszu cruised to a dominant win in the 200 IM and looks like the clear favorite in the 400.
But she isn’t counting out Shiwen in the final.
"She’s a great swimmer," Hosszu said.
The United States leads the medal table at the pool with 12 golds, six silvers and six bronzes. The team is likely to come up short of its performance at the last worlds — 16 golds, five silvers, eight bronzes — but is pleased with the showing in light of Phelps retiring and another big star, breaststroker Rebecca Soni, taking the year off.