DUTCHMAN FLIES TO FOURTH GOLD
By Craig Lord
Istanbul, Turkey – There was no stopping the Flying Dutchman, Pieter van den Hoogenband, as he thundered to a 1:47.09 victory in the 200m freestyle. Only one man came close enough to feel the wash, Britain’s Paul Palmer, winner of the 400m last Monday. Palmer set a British record of 1:48.01 despite being stripped of the use of his Adidas Bodysuit because of a legal wrangle with Speedo. Instead, he shaved off his body hair, donned his knee-length Speedo Aquablade suit and sliced a massive 0.83 off his six-year-old British standard.
If he had to lose his 200m title, it could not have gone to anyone faster. Van den Hoogenband’s 1:47.09 was the sixth fastest time ever. Only two of those swimmers still compete and they are Australians Grant Hackett, who set the world record of 1:46.67 this year, and Ian Thorpe, Commonwealth champion.
The 21-year-old Dutchman who two days ago became the first man in eight years to beat sprint Czar Alexander Popov, double Olympic champion, over 100m, led from the start, staying between half a second and a second ahead of Palmer throughout the thrilling race. The sprint home was painful for both after the early blistering pace that saw the Dutchman clock a 52.10, inside world record pace. Even though they both faded at the end, they had done enough to keep Italy’s Massimiliano Rosolino at bay, his 1:48.37 the only time that came close to the leading two.
Van den Hoogenband had collected his fourth title on his way to what could be a record Spitzean haul of seven gold medals. As defending champions, the British 4 x 200m freestyle quartet that includes Palmer, could halt his progress Saturday. But if the Dutch beat Britain, Van den Hoogenband then has the 50m freestyle against Popov and the 4 x 100m medley relay on Sunday. “Four is amazing. It’s the most beautiful week of my life. Seven is a possibility,” said the Dutchman, “but I think it’s not very big. I never talk of gold medals. There are a lot of good swimmers here and just getting any medal is hard enough.”
Not so for Inge de Bruijn, his teammate, who set a European record of 58.49 in the 100m butterfly. De Bruijn, who hails from Barendrecht in Holland but trains in Oregon under Hall of Fame coach, Paul Bergen, had set the record at 58.92 in the semi-finals on Thursday. Her finals time is the fourth fastest ever behind two Americans and a Chinese. It reflects a huge improvement of 0.79 in the past year for de Bruijn, who turns 26 next month. Johanna Sjoberg, of Sweden, was second in 58.97 and looked shaken when she saw De Bruijn’s time. Sjoberg had set the European record at 58.93 in June.
Germany enjoyed another good day, with victories for Sandra Voelker in the 100m backstroke (over Russian-turned Spaniard, Nina Zhivanevskaia) and Mark Warneke in the 50m breaststroke, while Agnes Kovacs, still wet from her 200m breaststroke semi-final, snatched victory in the 50m final in 31.44, just 0.01 shy of the European record that Britain’s Zoe Baker had set in the heats. Baker, who trains in New Zealand, was second just 0.09 behind Kovacs.
The 1,500m freestyle title went to Ukrainian Igor Snitko in 15:07.19, with Romanian newcomer, 18-year-old Dragos Coman second in 15:13.10 and looking like a great prospect for a medal at the Sydney Olympic Games next year.