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Federica Pellegrini will go down as one of the all-time greats. Yesterday, she beat the world's best swimmer, Katie Ledecky, in the 200 free. It was her seventh World Championship medal in a row, dating back to 2005. The result is remarkable, and Pellegrini remains somehow underrated.
The hallmark of a Pellegrini victory is her dangerous final 50. Even a superhuman like Ledecky can fall victim to Pellegrini's late race heroics. While she doesn't always win, she's won a lot of races against a lot of worthy competitors by sticking to her guns and executing a race strategy that works for her.
Let's look at some of the examples of this from the past. In 2011 Pellegrini won gold in the 200 freestyle. Look how "out of the race" she looks halfway through that one:
While Allison Schmitt and Femke Heemskerk tighten up, Pellegrini seems to calmly glide to the front of the field and then take a decisive victory, despite trailing by a body length halfway through.
Again, it matters little to Pellegrini what the other swimmers in the water are doing. Go out fast? She believes she can catch you. Wait around? You risk leaving her too close at the final lap.. Here is Pellegrini also dispatching Heemskerk (and Hosszu) when the pace was a little lighter on the first 100 at the 2014 European Championships in Berlin:
I often think of Pellegrini as the reverse Pieter van den Hoogenband. Hoogie had a nasty habit of stealing 200 freestyles from all-time greats by setting an uncomfortable pace on the first 100. He was able to use that both to beat Thorpe in a home pool 2000 Olympic race.
Thorpe was ready for that move four years later, but a less experienced Michael Phelps would have to wait four more years for history when caught in the whirlwind of those two:
Anyway, Pellegrini's particular style means that even when she loses, it's exciting to watch her race. You never know if she's out of it, and at 28 she's still ready to teach a younger swimmer something in a World Championship final. Bravo.