Fine Swimming And A Fine Mess Too
05-Apr-2006 Craig Lord
So, not the most auspicious of starts for a poorly attended world short-course championships in Shanghai though Australia's Jessica Schipper did her utmost to thrill in a 200 metres butterfly final that saw her the race well inside world record pace until the half-way mark.
Schipper's splits, compared to the world mark held by China's Yu Yang - not the woman she was and back in third in Shanghai on 2:07.05 - were 28.11 (-0.67); 59.45 (-0.72); 1:32.00 (+0.10); 2:05.11 (+1.07), the early pace talking a toll on the way home and allowing Francesca Segat to close the deficit to the Australian by almost a second over the final 50 metres. Schipper's effort was a championship record. The Italian took the silver in 2:05.91, just 0.14sec outside the European record held by Germany's Annika Melhorn, to become the tenth woman to swim inside 2:06.
Schipper was back in action later to take a second gold medal, as a member of the Australian 4x200m quartet. Victory by just 0.11sec ahead of China, in 7:46.96, 0.66sec shy of the world and championship record held by China since 2002, came down to a 1:53.78 split from Libby Lenton, with Bronte Barratt and Shayne Reese making up the winning foursome. The US took bronze in 7:49.16.
Ryk Neethling, who had a less-than perfect Commonwealth Games in Melbourne two weeks ago, snatched the 200 metres freestyle crown at the touch in 1:43.71sec, 0.07sec ahead of Italy's Filipo Magnini, whose teammate Massimiliano Rosolino was third in 1:44.67. In historic terms, the result was underwhelming compared to the efforts of the Athens podium finishers, Thorpe (faster as a 16-year-old), Van Den Hoogenband and Phelps. The winning time is fifth on the current year's world rankings, while Michael Gross would have still won a medal with a time from the 1980s and Giorgio Lamberti would have won the title with his best from 1990.
Magnini was back later with a 46.69sec split to help Italy teammates Alessandro Calvi, Klaus Lanzarini and Christian Galenda (46.86) win the 4x100m freestyle relay in 3:10.74, ahead of Sweden on 3:11.63, from a closing 46.33sec split by Stefan Nystrand, and the US, on 3:11.92. Three previous championships have been faster.
Kaitlin Sandeno, of the US, lost her 400m medley crown when finishing fifth in 4:36.56. The race was won by Chinese breaststroke specialist Qi Hui in 4:34.28, ahead of Alessi Filipi, of Italy, on 4:35.32 and Anastasia Ivanenko, of Russia, on 4:35.54. Again, the winning time fails to stack up even on current world rankings - it comes it at fifth, with none of those faster present in Shanghai. It was the slowest victory in the past five championships.
There is no hiding it: there may be good, tight racing going on but the quality one might expect at a world championship is missing. In a cluttered calendar and at a time when some are questioning the very role of s/c swimming in the grander, greater scheme of things, Shanghai's results have the feel of a swim-down or warm-up meet, a practice session, a dress rehearsal. Not the kind of arena likely to draw the masses into a passionate affair with the sport.
In that sense it was nice of Speedo to send the media a picture of the absent Michael Phelps to let us all know what was going on. The multiple Olympic champion will not, of course be racing, but these are days in which if you can't watch him in the water, you can read him on a website, blogging away for all he's worth alongside other worthies such as Leisel Jones, who clearly have time on their hands.
Speedo told us: "The daily blogs will provide a first hand insight into how competing swimmers will be feeling, some background on each race and a "who to watch" guide of upcoming clashes in the pool. Each athlete will post their blog entry on www.speedo.com
the day before the race in which they would normally compete, starting with Michael Phelps ...".
And there was more. "The Speedo Star Athlete Blogs present us with a unique opportunity to get athletes such as Phelps and Leisel Jones involved in supporting the many swimmers who will be taking part," said Tony Wood, Speedo International President.
So, Phelps and Jones, the biggest stars of the pool in the role of soft-focus cheerleaders and PR
pundits. Dear, oh dear, oh dear. Swimmers who's sponsors need the publicity of their names but swimmers not able or not willing to bring themselves to race.
What a fine mess this sport of ours has got itself into. Calendar chaos and swimmers in the commentary box chattering about those who they might otherwise have been racing at the height of their careers in the water.
There are four days of action to go in Shanghai but it already looks like the worst attended world s/c event since Fina began its love-affair with 25-metre pools. The sooner the governing body and the leading federations at the elite end of the sport engage in serious and long-overdue dialogue about the structure and calendar of the sport the better. It has been said before: less is more, and more is less. The lesson is still to be learned.