By Craig Lord
HELSINKI, July 3. The European Championships got off to a modest start at the Makelanrinne Swimming Center in Helsinki, with Emilliano Brembilla, of Italy, and Yana Klockkova, of Ukraine, emerging as the only two individual champions at the end of the first day of racing.
Brembilla, 21, ensured that Britain's Paul Palmer, 25 and the Olympic silver medal winner in 1996, would not retain his European 400m freestyle crown in an eight-length battle that had more training swim about it than
Brembilla, Dragos Coman, the 19-year-old Romanian, with Palmer always a stroke behind, swam stroke for stroke throughout the race, the Italian edging out Coman by just 0.13sec as he snatched victory in 3mins 48.56sec. Palmer trailed on the final length before touching in 3:50.97 and explaining that his rest period had not rested enough to do any better at
this stage of the Olympic season. The times were a far cry from the standards being set by Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett in Australia. However,with just 10 weeks to go before racing starts in Sydney, none of the
European competitors has fully tapered and shaved for Helsinki.
Palmer, 25, said of Thorpe: "He has set the standard and we all have to respond. I think the times in Sydney will shock alot of people." Asked whether he would be one of those who would shock, he said: "I hope so – I certainly don't intend to swim slow."
The women's 400m medley provided a better standard in terms of the world ranking list, with Klochkova retaining her title comfortably over Beatrice Coada-Caslaru of Romania, in 4:39.78 to 4:41.64. Caslaru put in a hard lap on the breaststroke leg to reduce a 6 meter gap to 2 meters going into the freestyle leg, but Klochkova, a world-class 400m freestyler, went into cruise mode to bring the title back to Ukraine.
The relays that followed were symptomatic of the fact that federations have not forced their best swimmers to turn up in Helsinki in the best of conditions, given the greater focus of Sydney ahead. In the
absence of teams from Germany and Britain, Sweden won the women's 4 by 100m freestyle by 3secs over Italy in 3:42.38sec. Alexander Popov brought the Russian 4 by 100m freestyle relay home to victory in 3:18.75, with Germany second and France third. The Netherlans placed a B team in the heats and failed to make the final, while Britain did not even enter. LEN's decision
to switch its championship to even years and into the Olympic domain has badly affected the quality of some of the competition in Helsinki. Nowhere was that more obvious than in the relays.
Meanwhile, Eithan Urbach of Israel led the qualifiers into the final of the 100m backstroke with a time of 55.64sec, Jarno Pihlava made himself a local hero in the 100m breaststroke by entering the final in lane 4 on 1:01.68, and Joanne Fargus, an 18-year-old newcomer from Britain set a national record of 2:12.68sec to top the qualifiers for the final of the 200m backstroke.
The talk of the day beyond the pool was Arena's PowerSkin suit, the latest to join the change of fashion that is sweeping the pool. The suit's
fabric was described as "hydrophobic", allowing not a drop of water to be absorbed. The main visible difference between it and the adidas Bodysuit and Speedo FastSkin is that the PowerSkin has no sleeves in any of its many varieties. Nor is there a "closed" back in the women's models.