By John Lohn
PHOENIX, Arizona, November 29. AFTER the first two days of the year-ending celebration in which we announced the Swimming World Magazine Open Water Swimmers of the Year (Larisa Ilchenko and Thomas Lurz) and the African Swimmers of the Year (Suzaan Van Biljon and Roland Schoeman), we are ready to announce the European Swimmers of the Year – Laure Manaudou and Laszlo Cseh.
For 18 years, they hopelessly chased a performance that was seemingly untouchable. So spectacular was Janet Evans' world record in the 400 meter free from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, there was reason to believe it might last for eternity.
For among all the challengers who emerged, none had come within a second of Evans' global standard. Until France's Laure Manaudou.
The Olympic champion in the event in Athens, Manaudou achieved the incredible by lowering Evans' standard twice—eventually to a hard-to-fathom clocking of 4:02.13.
This last effort claimed a gold medal at the European Championships in Budapest. There, Manaudou mined gold on three occasions, also securing victories in the 800 free (8:19.29, a European record) and 100 back (1:00.88). She also added a bronze medal in the 200 free.
On the strength of her event-defining performance and versatility, Manaudou is Swimming World Magazine's European Female Swimmer of the Year. She earned the distinction in runaway fashion over Germany's Britta Steffen, who established a world record in the 100 free. Manaudou also finished second in the Female World Swimmer of the Year balloting.
In May, Manaudou took the eraser to Evans' 400 free mark of 4:03.85 by registering a time of 4:03.03 at the French Championships. Three months later, she put on a show at the Europeans by slashing nearly a second off the record. Other than Manaudou and Evans, no other woman in history has dipped under 4:05.
For the year, she had top-five world rankings in six events and rated sixth in another.
1. LAURE MANAUDOU, France
2. Britta Steffen, Germany
3. Otylia Jedrzejczak, Poland
4. Alessia Filippi, Italy
5. Therese Alshammar, Sweden
One of the more demanding feats in sports—whether it be a team pursuit or individual chase—is pulling off a repeat. Somehow, Laszlo Cseh has a knack for maintaining his perch, which has allowed him to enhance the rich history of Hungarian swimming.
One year after claiming Swimming World Magazine's Male European Swimmer of the Year accolades, Cseh repeated in 2006 on the strength of a world-leading performance in the 400 meter IM and a dazzling exhibition at the European Championships.
En route to a title in the 400 IM at Europeans, held in his homeland, Cseh stopped the clock in 4:09.86, a mark that ultimately held off the 4:10.16 produced by Michael Phelps at U.S. Nationals. For good measure, Cseh added gold in the 200 IM, collected silver in the 200 back and took sixth in the 100 back. His 200 IM (1:58.17) and 200 back (1:56.69) each ranked fourth in the world.
By finishing on top of the global rankings in the 400 IM for the second consecutive year, Cseh further established himself as the main threat to Phelps at next year's World Championships in Melbourne and, eventually, the Beijing Olympics. Yet, this No. 1 ranking was more impressive, considering that Phelps placed greater emphasis on the discipline than he did in 2005, when the 400 IM was—more or less—an afterthought.
Even though Phelps remains the favorite in the 400 IM in international competition, Cseh is knocking on the door. Also, unlike in Europe, where he doesn't prefer company, Cseh intends on crashing Phelps' party.
1. LASZLO CSEH, Hungary
2. Yuri Prilukov, Russia
3. Filippo Magnini, Italy
4. Arkady Vyatchanin, Russia
5. Oleg Lisogor, Ukraine