Saturday, 23 April 2011
Do the Russian women now have a 4 x 100 Medley Relay Team?
Russian women have it pretty tough when it comes to relays. While the Russian men are busy scaring the American and French freestylers, more often that not the Russian women's teams have been mere observers during recent major finals, whether they qualified for the Top 8 or not.
That might be about to change with the recent breakthrough of Veronika Popova into the upper echelons of women's freestyle sprinting. On Day Two of the Russian Champs, Popova, 20, raced to a new national record in the 100 Free with a time of 54.22. Tonight, Popova followed that swim up with a 53.82 relay split (as well as a 1:56.94, 200 Free earlier in the session). Irina Bespalova, Popova's club teammate, won the 100 Fly in a time of 58.99.
If the back end is still a work in progress, there is no doubting the Russian's strength on the first half of the relay. They will be led off by Anastasia Zueva, who swam 59.51 in the 100 Back semi today, and Yulia Efimova, who while only on 1:07.44 at this competition, is one of 3 or 4 women in the world right now that look capable of swimming 1:05 on the 100 Breast.
Assuming Popova's breakthrough is not just a flash in the pan, the key to Mother Russia's medal hopes rest on the Butterfly leg. Bespalova is Russia's clear No.1 100m flyer right now but will need to be able to produce a relay split under 58 seconds if Russia are going to stand a chance of making the podium. At 29 years of age, it remains to be seen if she will be able to drop that amount of time.
While they are still unlikely to have the firepower on the Fly or the Free to match the US or Australia, having a breaststroker who can stay in touch with Rebecca Soni and Leisel Jones gives them a huge boost. Before this competition I wouldn't have said Russia entered the discussion for medals at Worlds/Olympics, but I see them now just behind China and Japan and slightly ahead of Sweden, Britain and Netherlands (who if Moniek Nijhuis can continue to improve, could have a dynamite Medley relay with Heemskerk, Nijhuis, Dekker and Kromowidjojo).