Swimming World's coverage of the FINA world championships is proudly sponsored by Speedo USA
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
Courtesy of: Peter H. Bick
Editor's note: A previous version of this article did not include Hanna-Maria Seppala and Ous Mellouli.
By Jeff Commings
PHOENIX, Arizona, July 22. WHEN the pool swimming competition begins Sunday in the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona at the FINA world championships, 10 of the 1,144 athletes who will race for medals will have intimate knowledge of standing on the medal podium in that spacious arena, having won medals at the 2003 edition. Some of those 10 who won medals in 2003 could find themselves packing away another world championship medal, a companion to the ones they scored 10 years ago.
Below is the list of the 10 returning medal winners. We also want to acknowledge three athletes who competed in 2003 but left with no medals. Anthony Ervin, Filippo Magnini and Roland Schoeman could win at least one medal, either individually or as part of a relay, proving that swimmers in their 30s should not be seen as washed-up has-beens.
Bousquet was the king of sprinting in the 2000s, paving the way for sprinters who currently dominate the 50 freestyle scene. He was the first under 19 seconds in the 50-yard free, and the first under 21 seconds in long course. At the 2003 worlds, he won bronze as part of France's 400 freestyle relay, and could be a medal winner next week, in either the 50 butterfly or 50 freestyle. At 32 years old, he's finding a great deal of longevity in the sport, and is one of the few sprinters to find himself on the medal podium before, during and after the techsuit era.
Coughlin was poised to be one of the stars of the 2003 world championships, but the northern California girl was struck with the flu just before the start of the meet and left with "only" a gold medal in the 400 free relay and silver in the 400 medley relay. After the London Olympics, Coughlin changed up her event schedule, sticking with the sprint freestyles. It paid off with a return trip to Barcelona, representing the United States in the 50 freestyle. She is also an alternate in the 400 free relay, and as a prelim swimmer, could have matching gold medals in that event 10 years apart.
The Hungarian has the great misfortune of being at his best in the era of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. If not for them, he would be swimming in world and Olympic gold medals. Give credit to Cseh for hanging through the tough times when he's relegated to silver or bronze, and applaud him for staying in the sport after London. Cesh won silver in the 400 IM in 2003, and he just might get another silver in that event or the 200 IM this year.
Gilot has been through the ups and downs of French swimming. As part of the 2008 Olympic 400 free relay that missed out on gold by mere hundredths, Gilot stayed with the sport and was rewarded with revenge gold in 2012. Interestingly, Gilot was part of bronze medal 400 free relays for France in 2003, 2007 and 2009, and the silver medal-winning team in 2011. He has never won gold at the world championships, but that could all change for him and for France on July 28, when the final of the 400 free relay takes place.
The most accomplished swimmer from the 2003 world championships on this list, Kitajima set world records in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes in 2003, one year before conversations about him as the world's greatest breaststroker began to officially emerge. The Barcelona world championships would be his last time to stand on the top step of the medal podium at worlds, though he would come through for gold in 2008. Kitajima is only relegated to relay duty for Japan at this meet, but after winning bronze in the medley relay in 2003, Kitajima could help Japan to another relay medal in Barcelona.
The Russian butterflyer has mostly swum in the shadow of Michael Phelps, Ian Crocker and others since the 2003 worlds, where he collected bronze in the 50 butterfly. But he finally collected major hardware at the 2012 Olympics, tying Chad Le Clos for the silver medal in the 100 butterfly. He is considered a medal contender in that event this year, and could be a key leg in giving Russia a medal in the medley relay. I have always found it interesting that Korotyshkin sports a shaved head but wears a swim cap in his races. With a silver medal from the Olympics, I won't deny him the right to wear anything he likes!
Mellouli rose in the ranks of international swimming in the early 2000s in the individual medley, winning bronze in 2003 behind Michael Phelps and Laszlo Cseh. As his distance freestyle prowess improved, so did his ability to race with the best. At the 2007 world championships, he collected silver in the 400 free and gold in the 800 free, but those medals were returned after the results of a drug test three months earlier came back positive for a banned substance. Shortly after his suspension, he would win the 1500 freestyle at the 2008 Olympics, followed by a gold in the same event at the 2009 world championships. He's now putting a strong focus on open water, as evidenced by his 2012 Olympic title in the 10K swim, and last weekend's gold in the 5K and silver in the 10K in Barcelona. As of now, he joins Michael Phelps as the only swimmers to earn gold medals 10 years apart at the world championships.
While Natalie Coughlin has found success in reinventing herself in the pool, Eva Risztov is the epitome of reinvention. The three-time silver medalist (400 free, 200 fly, 400 IM) at the 2003 worlds as a 17-year-old, Risztove retired in 2005 but came back to the sport in 2009, after the lure of open water swimming was too much to ignore. Three years after her return, she won the Olympic 10K swim. Risztov is set for the 10K swim Tuesday in Barcelona, with an eye on winning her first world championship gold and joining Ous Mellouli as the only swimmers to win world championship gold medals in the pool and open water.
The Finnish swimmer won the 100 freestyle in 2003 and has been a fixture on Finland's national team in the years since. She was unable to replicate her gold medal from 2003 at the 2004 world championships in 2004, finishing 12th in the 100 free at the Athens Olympics. She returns to Barcelona in the sprint freestyle events.
Talk about consistency. Zandberg has won a medal in the 50 backstroke at four of the past five world championships, missing out on the 2005 event. While it might not be difficult to stay in medal contention in a non-Olympic event for 10 years, the new crop of backstrokers that pops up every four years or so could have bumped Zandberg out of a world championship final. But the South African has been on the world championship podium four times, looking to make it five. Initial research indicates that only Michael Phelps has been able to win a medal at the world championships in the same event five times (200 butterfly), so Zandberg is looking to join an uber-elite club here.