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2002 Year In Review


By Phillip Whitten

In 2002, midway between the Sydney and Athens Games, the swimming was fast and furious, with the record book virtually rewritten in the space of one year.

No fewer than 12 long course and 31 short course global marks were swept away in 2002, as swimmers around the world took advantage of several high-profile international meets to strut their stuff on the world stage.

In long course competition, the European Championships, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Pan Pacific Championships_where the USA regained its crown as the world's leading swimming superpower_were the year's major gatherings of the sport's elite. In short course, the FINA World Cup tour and the Short Course World Championships produced most of the record-breaking.

At year's end, swimmers from 11 different countries were newly inscribed in the world record book: Australia, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine and the USA.

Two 19-year-olds_Ian Thorpe and Natalie Coughlin_were the year's top headliners, but they were by no means the only swimming stories of '02. Here is a review of the people and stories that made swimming news in the second year of the third millennium:

JANUARY
Some years end with a whimper, but 2001 went out with a bang.

Beginning an improbable saga, China's Luo Xuejuan and newcomer Li Wei both broke the WR in the 50 meter breast, tying in 30.56 seconds at a World Cup competition in early December 2001. It was the first time two swimmers had tied while breaking a world record. A week later, at the Euro Short Course Champs in Antwerp, Sweden's Emma Igelstrom equaled that mark, and all three women shared the WR.

Then the New Year came roaring in, and the women's 50 breast WR poker game continued. Britain's Zoe Baker broke the three-woman, record-holding deadlock with a 30.53 on Jan. 4, then a 30.51 less than two weeks later. Luo raised the ante with a 30.47 before Igelstrom jumped in with a 30.43. Baker then called the Swede with her 30.31.

Meanwhile, the USA's Ed Moses lowered the three men's breaststroke records five times in eight days. He lost the 50 standard to Ukraine's Oleg Lisogor (26.20), but wound up with breathtaking marks of 57.47 and 2:03.17 for the 100 and 200.

Moses received a car and the top World Cup prize of $50,000. Slovakia's Martina Moravcova won the women's $50K prize after clocking a WR 56.55 in the 100 meter fly

Other WRs: Germany's Thomas Rupprath clocked 50.10 in the 100 fly; Australia's Geoff Huegill went 22.74 in the 50 fly; and Ukraine's Yana Klochkova lowered the 400 IM mark to 4:27.83, breaking the highly-suspect 4:29.00 standard by China's Dai Guohong from 1993.

In other news: Even before the New Year started, media mogul Ted Turner announced the demise of the ailing Goodwill Games in December 2001, and Greek Vasileios Demetis was given a lifetime ban by FINA after testing positive for two banned substances a second time. Then in January, the National Wrestling Coaches Association filed suit, challenging the proportionality rule of Title IX; SwimInfo published a three-part series demonstrating irrefutable evidence of widespread doping again in China; Australia's Michael Klim underwent back surgery; and 1996 Olympic champ Jeff Rouse announced his comeback.

Passed away: Dr. Cheryl Maglischo, 63, author of numerous scientific articles on swimming; and 1932 Australian Olympic gold medalist, Bonnie Mealing, 89.

FEBRUARY
After the frenzied record-breaking of January, February offered a breather for weary swimmers around the world with no major international competition.

In the U.S., the college conference championship meet season began, with the last stragglers held in March. Fran Crippen, a senior at Germantown Academy, set a national independent school mark, clocking 4:19.54 in the 500 yard free.

Fifteen-year-old disabled swimmer Ashley Cowan was featured on national TV on "Ripley's Believe It Or Not." The previous September, Cowan, a quadruple amputee, swam 12.5 miles across Lake Erie in 14 hours 20 minutes. She is the youngest person and the first disabled swimmer to conquer Lake Erie.

MARCH
Refreshed by a month's hiatus from high-pressure meets, swimmers around the world were ready to swim fast again.

Sweden's Emma Igelstrom picked up the short course 50 meter breaststroke reins, lowering the WR to 30.24 and also setting an ER of 1:05.93 in the 100.

At the U.S. spring nationals, Aaron Peirsol dethroned Lenny Krayzelburg in the 200 meter backstroke, posting a WR 1:55.15. Diana Munz won three events, and Jason Lezak won the sprints in 22.00 and 48.89. His 50 time wound up as the world's fastest for '02, and it also makes him fifth fastest in history. Christina Swindle (50 meter free, 25.29) and Michael Cavic (100 meter fly, 53.30), both 17, were first-time winners.

At the Aussie Nationals/Pan Pac Trials, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett made swimming history. Thorpe became the first person to score a double triple, taking the 100-200-400 meter free for the second straight year. His 400 time of 3:40.54 just missed breaking his WR. Hackett won the 1500 a record sixth year in a row. Jim Piper was under WR pace for 150 meters in the 200 meter breaststroke, but settled for a Commonwealth record 2:10.88, making him the fifth fastest man ever.

Auburn dethroned three-time defending champ Georgia for the women's NCAA crown, as a record 12 NCAA marks_led by Natalie Coughlin's four_were set: Coughlin's 100 yard free (47.47), 100 back (49.97), 200 back (1:49.52) and 100 fly (50.01); Maritza Correia's 50 free (21.69); Dana Kirk's 200 breast (2:07.36); Shelly Ripple's 200 fly (1:53.23); Maggie Bowen's 200 IM (1:53.91); Stanford's 200 (1:37.77) and 400 (3:31.74) medley relays; and Georgia's 200 (1:28.74) and 400 free relay (3:13.71). At the Pac-10 conference meet, Kirk set an NCAA mark in the 100 breast (58.68).

Texas edged Stanford by 11 points to win its third straight men's NCAA crown. Six NCAA marks were set: Anthony Ervin's 50 (19.05) and 100 free (41.62); Brendan Hansen's 200 breast (1:52.88); Ian Crocker's 100 fly (45.44); Stanford's 200 free relay (1:16.76); and USC's 800 free relay (6:17.35).

Truman State (women) and Cal State Bakersfield (men) repeated as NCAA Division II champions, while Kenyon won both DIII crowns, the men for the 23rd consecutive year.

In other news: Bowling Green University announced it was dropping men's swimming, while Massachusetts said it would drop men's and women's swimming, but later reversed itself, though seven other Olympic sports were cut; Ian Thorpe was selected as the world's top athlete by the International Amateur Athletic Association; Aussie coach Scott Volkers was charged with child sex offenses, dating back almost 20 years (in September, the charges were found to be false and were dropped); the National Club Swimming Association held its first-ever junior nationals, and the meet was a rousing success; and 104 world records fell at the World Masters Championships in New Zealand.

APRIL
The big meet in April took place in flu-ridden Moscow, host to the World Short Course Championships.

Eight world records were set, two by Sweden's Emma Igelstrom. The Swede wrote the final chapter to '02's 50 meter breaststroke melodrama, breaking the 30-second barrier in the process (29.96). She added a second global mark with her 1:05.38 in the 100. Then she teamed with Therese Alshammar, Anna-Karin Kammerling and Johanna Sjoberg as Sweden set a WR 3:55.78 in the 400 meter medley relay.

Aaron Peirsol set a world mark in the 200 meter back with his 1:51.17, then combined with Dave Denniston, Peter Marshall and Jason Lezak to set a global record of 3:29.00 in the medley relay. Lindsay Benko added a third WR for the U.S. squad with a brilliant 1:54.04 in the 200 meter free, while Ukrainian Olympic champion Yana Klochkova lowered the 400 IM standard to 4:27.83. China's 800 meter women's free relay team_Xu Yanwei, Zhu Yingwen, Tang Jingzhi and Yu Yang_completed the record-breaking with a 7:46.30 effort.

In Japan, Sachiko Yamada swam a blistering 8:14.35 800 meter free (short course) to wrest the five-month-old WR from China's Chen Hua.

Sizzling early-season long course times highlighted meets around the world. France's Franck Esposito set a Euro record in the 200 meter fly with his 1:54.62, second fastest in history. Algeria's Salim Iles swam an African record 49.00 in the 100 free, breaking Jonty Skinner's 26-year-old mark. Brits Zoe Baker and James Gibson set Euro records in the 50 breast at 31.04 and 27.51.

Hungarian age group phenom, Dani Gyurta, 12, continued his phenomenal record-setting. At a long course meet in Vienna, he swam 30.16, 1:04.78 and 2:17.98 for the 50-100-200 breaststrokes.

In the U.S., the Irvine H.S. girls' team recaptured the national high school record in the 200 yard medley relay, clocking 1:44.72. M.E. Lyons/Anderson Y Barracudas repeated as champions at the YMCA Nationals, taking the men's, women's and combined team crowns.

In other news: Two more of China's top swimmers_Shan Ying and Zhou Jiawei_tested positive for steroids and were suspended.

Passed away: 1972 Olympic double gold medalist, Jerry Heidenreich, died at 51.

MAY
The fast times kept on rolling in May.

In a preview of what was to come later, Germany's Franzi van Almsick clocked 1:57.74 for the 200 meter free_fastest time in three years; Thomas Rupprath swam history's second fastest 100 meter fly, 51.88. Olympic champ Tom Malchow clocked a speedy 1:56.23 200 meter fly at the Domino Classic. China's Xu Yanwei, Chen Yan and Qi Hui swam to six world-leading times. In China, the USA's Erica Rose won the Yangtze River Race before a crowd of 100,000; the race was televised nationally.

Michael Cavic set two national high school records_19.69 for the 50 yard free and 47.13 for the 100 fly. He also ranked first in the U.S. in the 100 free (44.11) and 100 back (47.55). The Irvine girls' team lowered its national H.S. mark in the 200 medley relay to 1:43.71.

USOC President Sandy Baldwin, a former president of USA Swimming, was forced to resign after it was revealed that she falsified two items on her resum‚.

On the college front, there was good news and bad news. First, the good news: Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., announced it would add a men's swim team beginning in fall 2002. The bad: Northern Iowa announced it was dropping men's and women's swimming for "budgetary reasons." When lawyers representing the women threatened to sue under Title IX, NIU buckled and reinstated the women's team. Total savings: $12,000.

In other news: Triple Olympic champion Inge De Bruijn and her Dutch team, Philips Pro Swim Team, had a stormy parting; two-time Australian Olympian Daniel Kowalski retired; so did Belgium's four-time Olympian, Brigitte Becue; South African Olympian Sarah Poewe announced she was switching nationalities and would swim for Germany after the Commonwealth Games; and in Australia, Doug Frost_Ian Thorpe's coach_was named Coach of the Year.

JUNE
In an exclusive, SwimInfo revealed that Jenny Thompson, the most decorated U.S. female Olympian in any sport, was making a comeback. Costa Rican national hero Claudia Poll, 1996 Olympic gold and 2000 bronze medalist in the 200 free, tested positive for steroids and was suspended for four years. Poll proclaimed her innocence and said she would appeal. Extreme irregularities in the testing and handling procedures cast considerable doubt on the validity of the positive test. Lastly, Italian Olympic gold medalist Massi Rosolino was accused by a Mafioso of having bought illegal human growth hormone from him. An angry Massi threatened to sue La Republica, the newspaper that published the allegations.

In the U.S., the USOC held a one-day seminar on the decline of Olympic sports at American colleges, but neglected to invite any athletes or the leaders of the fight to save these sports.

Centenary College announced it will add men's and women's Div. III swim teams to its athletic program. Perennial Div. III powerhouse, Kenyon College, received an anonymous $25 million gift, part of which will go toward building a state-of-the-art 50 meter facility.

The Japanese nationals were very fast, and Japan's top male breaststroker, Kosuke Kitajima, gave intimations of what would come later in the year. Tomoko Hagiwara became the first Japanese swimmer ever to win four events.

Emily Watts, 34-year-old Masters swimmer, won the annual Swim Around Manhattan marathon.

Russian coach Gennadi Touretski was suspended (later canned) from the Australian Institute of Sport after an alleged incident on a flight from Europe.

JULY
Major meets produced waves all around the world in July.

In Europe, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and the European Championships in Berlin got underway and ran simultaneously through Aug. 4 (great planning!)

At the CGs, Ian Thorpe won six golds and a silver, setting a WR in the 400 meter free (3:40.08). Petria Thomas was almost as impressive with five golds. Zoe Baker set a WR of 30.57 in the 50 breast.

At the ECs, Franzi van Almsick broke her own eight-year-old WR in the 200 free, clocking 1:56.64, and anchored Germany's WR-breaking 400 meter free relay (3:36.00), as she collected five gold medals. Sweden's Anna-Karin Kammerling broke Inge De Bruijn's WR in the 50 fly with a 25.57. Igor Lisogor set a WR of 27.18 in the 50 breast; Otylia Jedrejczak became the first Polish woman to set a WR in swimming with her 2:05.78 200 fly. Pieter van den Hoogenband and Thomas Rupprath just missed setting WRs. Martina Moravcova swam a world-leading 57.20 100 fly.

Elsewhere, Jenny Thompson made an impressive comeback debut in Montreal; Hungary's Eva Risztov won seven golds at her nationals, while Dani Gyurta swam 2:16.58 for the 200 meter breast one month after turning 13; at the Janet Evans Invite, Erik Vendt out-dueled Michael Phelps in the 400 IM; and in Australia, Grant Hackett broke his own short course WR in the 400 meter free in 3:34.58.

Michael Cavic and Christina Swindle were Swimming World's male and female High School Swimmers of the Year.

Passed Away: 1964 Aussie Olympian Brett Hill; Hall of Famer Dick Cleveland, 73, the first swimmer to train with weights; and Masters great Ray Taft, 82.

AUGUST
There were two monster meets in August, and when the last stroke had been taken, there was no doubt that the USA had recaptured its crown as the world's leading swimming nation.

Most of the record-breaking fireworks took place at the U.S. nationals in Fort Lauderdale at the shallow, narrow, antiquated Hall of Fame pool. There, Natalie Coughlin and Michael Phelps made believers of any remaining skeptics.

Natalie won five gold medals_a feat only Tracy Caulkins had accomplished before her_setting a world and two American records. The much-anticipated WR came in the 100 meter back, where the 19-year-old Cal junior blasted through the one-minute barrier with her 59.58. She also broke the oldest U.S. women's record with her 2:08.53 in the 200 back. For good measure, she added triumphs in the 100-200 free and 100 fly.

Michael was equally awesome, setting a world record and three ARs, though he had to settle for "just" four golds. In a mythic dual with Erik Vendt in which both men broke the WR for the 400 meter IM, Michael touched first in 4:11.09. He also smashed the AR in the 200 IM with his 1:58.68, making him the second fastest man all-time, and he set another in the 100 fly with his 51.88, also No. 2 on the all-time list. He also won the 200 fly in 1:54.86, just off his own WR.

Aaron Peirsol took both backstrokes, swimming a world-leading 54.01 for 100 meters.

The Pan Pacs were billed as the "Shootout in the OK Corral: the USA vs. Australia." On the line: bragging rights for the title, "King of the Pool." But the battle quickly turned into a rout, with the USA winning 21 gold medals to Australia's 11, and beating them 52-28 in total medals.

Thorpe won five golds: 100, 200, 400 free, and both free relays; he settled for a silver in the medley. Coughlin earned four golds and two silvers, winning the 100 free in AR time (53.99), 100 back (59.72), 100 fly (57.88) and contributing a leg to the 800 free relay. Her silvers came in the two 400 meter relays. In an upset, Olympic champ Tom Malchow overhauled young Phelps to win the 200 fly (1:55.21), though Phelps won both IMs. Grant Hackett won the 1500 in 14:41.65, second fastest ever.

At the 1999 Pan Pacs, 12 WRs were set. This year there was only one, and it came in the very last event: the men's 400 medley relay. The U.S. team of Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Phelps and Jason Lezak clocked 3:33.48.

In other news: Ian Thorpe said he was planning to train in Europe; Marty Mankmayer was selected as president of the USOC; and Brent Rutemiller took the reins as CEO of Sports Publications.

Passed Away: Al VandeWeghe, silver medalist in the 100 meter backstroke at the 1936 Olympics, at 86.

SEPTEMBER
After the pressure-cooker meets of July and August, September provided some downtime for swimmers worldwide. But not for the denizens of open water. The 2nd FINA Open Water Championships were held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, where the competition was dominated by Russia, Germany, Italy and Russia.

Russia's Yuri Koudinov and Holland's Edith van Dijk reprised their 25K triumph from the first championships, with van Dijk winning by less than two seconds over Germany's Angela Maurer and Britta Kamrau.

Kamrau beat Italy's Viola Valli in the 10K by 3-hundredths of a second, while Russia's Evgueni Koshkarov won the men's race by four seconds. Valli took the women's 5K as Luca Baldini led a 1-2 Italian sweep of the men's race.

At the 10K Atlantic City marathon, Bulgaria's Peter Stoychev won a men's race that was so close, it took officials two hours to sort out the top three placings. The USA's Erica Rose took the women's crown.

At the Australian Short Course Champs, Matt Welsh set a WR of 23.31 for the 50 meter back, and an Aussie relay squad broke the world 400 meter medley relay mark with a 3:28.12. Petria Thomas set a Commonwealth record 56.93 in the 100 meter fly, and Michael Klim made a successful return from surgery, winning the 100 and 200 meter free. In England, Stephen Parry won five golds at the British SC Champs.

In other news: Ron van Pool was elected president of USA Swimming; and Ian Thorpe left his longtime coach, Doug Frost.

Passed away: Harry Glancy, the oldest American swimming gold medalist, died at 98. He swam on the winning 800 meter free relay at the 1924 Games.

OCTOBER
The only major international meet in October, the 14th Asian Games, produced a world record as well as other top-flight swims. In the battle for Asian supremacy, China won 20 gold medals to 11 for Japan, but Japan won the total medal count, 42-39.

Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, 20, provided the most spectacular fireworks, breaking Mike Barrowman's decade-old WR in the 200 meter breast with his 2:09.97. He also took the 100 in 1:00.45.

Fifteen-year-old Wu Peng set an Asian record (AR) in the 400 IM (4:15.38), a national record (NR) in the 200 fly (1:56.63) and won the 200 back (2:00.40); Takahiro Mori set an AR in the 200 IM (2:00.53) as did Chen Hua in the 800 free (8:25.36) and Luo Xuejuan in the 100 breast (1:06.84); Qi Hui won three individual events, and Sachiko Yamada set a NR in the 400 free (4:07.23).

Chris Thompson and Brooke Bennett earned $10K each for winning the Tiburon Mile. Alex Kostich took the St. Croix 5-mile.

In the U.S., the Secretary of Education's Commission on Opportunity in Athletics began holding hearings around the country.

Passed away: Aileen Riggin Soule, the oldest woman Olympic gold medalist and the first person to win Olympic medals in swimming and diving, passed away at 96; Manfred Ewald, who presided over East Germany's state-sponsored doping program, died at 76. A Nazi-turned-Communist, Ewald received the IOC's highest honors, but was convicted in a German court.

NOVEMBER
As November rolled around, swimmers around the world were ready for some more barrier-busting.

At the FINA World Cup meet in New York, the amazing Natalie Coughlin set three short course world marks while in heavy training: 100 meter back (56.71), 100 fly (56.34) and 100 IM (58.80). In Germany, Thomas Rupprath lowered the WR in the men's 50 back to 23.23.

In the U.S., three high school girls smashed through the previously inviolate 49-second barrier in the 100 yard free. Kara Lynn Joyce set national high school marks in the 50 (22.04) and 100 yard free (48.59) and led her Ann Arbor (Mich.) team to two more high school records in the 200 (1:32.77) and 400 free relay (3:25.91).

Rhi Jeffrey of Atlantic Del Ray H.S. (Fla.) broke the oldest prep mark when she clocked 1:45.49 in the 200 yard free. Sippy Woodhead's 1:45.98 had lasted 20 years. Jeffrey also swam 48.73 for the 100 free.

Gulliver Prep's Christina Swindle slashed her own national independent school records with swims of 22.30 and 48.90 seconds in the sprints.

In other news: Dartmouth College announced it was killing men's and women's swimming, setting off major, ongoing protests; Canisius College said it will add men's swimming, but cut seven other sports; Alex Popov decided to move to Switzerland from Australia; Dennis Pursley stepped down as U.S. National Team Director after 13 years; Michael Klim underwent shoulder surgery two months after his comeback from back surgery; and FINA announced all WR-breakers will be tested for EPO.

Passed away: Prince Alexandre de Merode, head of the IOC's Medical Commission, died at 65 of lung cancer. Eologized as a leader in the fight against doping, he actually was a major impediment to the enactment of effective doping rules and punishments.

DECEMBER
As 2002 drew to a close, there was every indication that the torrid pace would carry over to the New Year.

Three short course world records fell in the first two weeks, with the European Champs still ahead. In Shanghai, China's Qi Hui lowered her own global standard in the 200 meter breast to 2:18.86 and also clocked a World Cup record 2:08.79 for the 200 IM. In Melbourne, Thomas Rupprath set a WR of 50.58 in the prelims of the 100 back, but failed to win the final. In France, 32-year-old Franck Esposito slashed the 200 fly record to 1:50.73.

China introduced two superfast 12-year-olds and an 11-year-old to international swimming. Zhang Tianyi, 12, swam 4:35.69 for the 400 IM, 2:09.85 for the 200 and 2:27.73 for the 200 breast.

Swimming at the Auburn Invitational, Natalie Coughlin shattered the American records in the 200 yard free (1:42.65) and 200 fly (1:51.91), the latter breaking Mary T. Meagher's 21-year-old mark.

Stanford nipped Cal 7-6 to repeat as NCAA men's water polo champions.

To the surprise of no one, at year's end Ian Thorpe and Natalie Coughlin were honored as Swimming World's World Swimmers of the Year.