Sunday, 6 March 2011
A Closer Look At Rebecca Adlington's 4:02.84 400m Free
Is Adlington the best 400m Freestyler in the world?
This is not a question of looking at the 2011 world rankings, clearly she leads the rest of the world with such a strong time early in the year. More pressing is whether we should now consider her as the strongest 400m Freestyler in the world? Last week the unanimous choice would have been Federica Pellegrini, the reigning world champion and the fastest in the world last year on a 4:03.12. Adlington's time last year of 4:04.55 was a little way back.
Things changed on Saturday night though. Adlington's time of 4:02.84 gives her the fastest time since the suit laws were changed and even improved upon her gold medal winning time from the Beijing final (although she was slightly faster in the Olympic heats, 4:02.24).
The big question will be how Pellegrini responds. It has been a turbulent few years for the Italian with the death of her coach Alberto Castagnetti, leaving his successor Stefano Morini and joining Phillipe Lucas, the former coach of her arch-rival Laure Manaudou. Having a stable training environment is crucial for any swimmer, especially one who has demonstrated a level of mental fragility over the years. Last year saw a number of 'Did Not Finishes' for the Italian in major meets. She now has a new marker to aim for.
There are also a number of other challengers in the event. Over in America Katie Hoff and Kate Ziegler have returned to their best form and Chloe Sutton is putting together a number of eye-catching 400m swims. Sutton importantly is trending upwards in the event and we have yet to see her at her full potential. All three women swam 4:06 untapered at the Indianapolis Grand Prix this weekend, which bodes extremely well for 2011. France has a strong trio of swimmers with Camille Muffat, Coralie Balmy and Ophelie-Cyrille-Etienne. Australia are always strong and have a number of women knocking on the door of the top of the world rankings and China has some super-talented youngsters emerging, led by Yiwen Shao.
Adlington's swim had almost exactly the same splits as her Olympic final in 2008. Both swims were out in 59 seconds, 2:01 at the halfway point, and a final 100 under 60 seconds. The only difference was a slightly stronger third 100m last night.
So does this represent the perfect pacing for Adlington, or would she benefit from being out faster in the first 200m? When she comes up against her main rival Federica Pellegrini this summer you can guarantee that the Italian will be out fast, likely in the 1:58 to 1:59 range. Pellegrini went out too slowly in Beijing and could never get back on terms. She clearly didn't swim to her strengths, a mistake she won't make again at a major competition.
In Rome, Adlington was out in 2:00 compared to Pellegrini's 1:59, and the Italian controlled the race from there (in a Jaked suit) to finish in 3:59.15 to Adlington's 4:00.79 (in a Speedo LZR) . Without the mental and physical aid of the suit I don't think Pellegrini will have the same confidence if she is challenged on the third or fourth 100m, and that represents Adlington's chance for victory.
In Shanghai I hope Adlington can get out slightly faster, around the 2:00-low mark, and then set about overhauling Pellegrini and the rest of the field, a competence she is highly skilled in.
Just how fast will her 800m Free be on Friday Evening?
Being faster than her 400 winning time, can she possibly get close to her World Record of 8:14.10? And if not, how about Janet Evans' iconic former World Record of 8:16.22?
I think 8:16 is a real possibility. She swam 8:23 last month at the British University Championships, helped slightly by the fact she was racing men and had someone to chase. Fully tapered and in this kind of form, a 7 second drop would be substantial, but not impossible. More realistic though would be something around 8:20.