By Steve Thomas
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA. March 5. RUSSIA's Alex Popov, who lost his crown as the king of sprint swimming at the Sydney Olympics, believes he is capable of winning it back. The Canberra based swimmer has begin training in earnest with his sights set on winning the 50m and 100m freestyle events at the July World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.
Popov was competing in his first meet of the year at the ACT Open (LC) Championships at the Australian Institute of Sport this weekend. The 29-year-old Russian clocked the fastest time for the 50m free in the heats (23.20) but was beaten into second by five-one-hundredths of a second in the final by the much improved Victorian Stephen Goodie (23.22). This was well outside his meet record of 22.61 and his world mark of 21.64 set in Moscow last year.
Popov put his second placing down to the fact that he was very tired after just completing a three-week training camp in Queensland with members of the AIS squad, including training partner and Sydney double relay gold medallist, Michael Klim. "The others (at the camp) are in a different stage of preparation to me; they have the Australian selection trials for the World Championships in three weeks," he said. "I will not be competing until the Mare Nostrum Series in Europe at the end of May, then the Golden Bear (meet) in Croatia. I will not be swimming at the Russian trials, my selection will be based on my performance in Europe, he confirmed."
Popov indicated he still had the motivation to continue at least until the World Championships when he will review whether he should continue on attempt his fourth Olympics in Athens. "Even though I don't hold the record for the 100 metres anymore, it's still important for me to swim, I'm pretty sure that my potential hasn't been used yet, he said." To be in the hunt to reclaim the record that was smashed by Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband at the Sydney Olympics, he will have to at least break the 48-second mark for the first time.
There were several solid performances at the AIS meet, which provided swimmers the last chance to race prior to the Australian Championships starting in Hobart March 24.
Coach Gennadi Touretski was keen to test Michael Klim's stamina over the less familiar distances of the 200m fly and 400m free. Klim, the Olympic silver medallist in the 100m fly in Sydney showed he was up to the task with a meet record 1:58.06, beating Justin Norris (1:58.56), the Olympic bronze medallist in this event in Sydney. Klim also won the 400m free in 3:59.43 and the 50m fly in a solid 24.37.
Petria Thomas took out the treble in the butterfly events with her first competition since the Olympics. She clocked a solid 59.92 in the 100m, where she finished 4th in Sydney and tired to finished in 2:11.65 in her bronze medal winning event in Sydney.
Olympic 200m backstroker Clementine Stoney, with excellent recent Short Course form in Europe including 2:06.70 in Berlin giving her the world number one ranking for the 200m back, was untroubled to take out the dorsal treble. In particular, her 1:03.27 for the 100m backstroke was only one-tenth of a second outside the meet record held by dual Olympic medallist Nicole Stevenson.
In the absence of Michael Klim, fellow Olympic 200m free relay gold teammate, Bill Kirby, took out the 100m fly in 53.71. Kirby also won the 200m free in a solid (1:49.85) from Todd Pearson (1:50.42), another member of the Sydney world record-breaking relay team.
After missing out on the Australian team for Sydney, breastroker Simon Cowley looks set to make some amends at the World Championship trials. The 20-year-old won the treble at this meet, beating Olympic medley relay silver medallist Regan Harrison on each occasion. He clocked 2:16.54 for the 200m breaststroke to easily break triple Olympian Phil Rogers's 1996 meet record.
Lori Munz appears fully recovered from the serious auto accident just 12 months ago that seem sure to end her promising swimming career. Munz now looks a likely to help fill the gap left by the retired Susie O'Neill in the 100m and 200m freestyle relay teams for Japan. Munz was untroubled to take out the 100/200 free double as well as the 200m IM in 2:19.55. Munz (26.85) also finished second behind dual Olympian Sarah Ryan in a meet record 26.04.