By Bill Bell
CHALON-SUR-SAONE, France, April 18. MEMO to Michael Phelps: Don't start shining up that Olympic gold medal from Athens just yet!
At Day 4 of the French Championships/European Championship Trials here this evening, ageless butterflyer Franck Esposito, who at 30 last summer set the European Record in the 200 meters at the World Championships (1:55.03 in the semis), put paid to that mark with his winning 1:54.62 — history's second-fastest time.
Only Phelps' world-record 1:54.58 from Fukuoka is quicker. However, Phelps has a 1:54.92 from last spring's World Championship Trials, so he leads in
the sub 1:55.0 category over Esposito, 2-1.
What is even more amazing about Esposito's swim this evening — beside the fact that, at 31, he's nearly twice Phelps' age and almsot old enough to be his father — are his splits. He was out in 53.95 for his initial 100, whereas Phelps split 54.81 en route to his world record.
Of course, Esposito is a 52.5 100 flyer whereas Phelps has a century pr of 52.98 from last summer's U.S. Nationals at Clovis — less than three weeks after having set the world-record in Japan. Incidentally, Phelps' Clovis swim is a 15-16 national age group record and ranked the Baltimore youngster 10th globally on last year's performers' list.
Comparing the two swims, Esposito was well ahead of world-record pace for the first 150 meters but faded a bit coming home. Certainly the proverbial piano didn't fall on his back that final 50, but he did go a 30.96 for his last lap vs. Phelps' 29.87.
50 M 100 M 150 M 200 M
Esposito: 25.19 53.95 1:23.66 1:54.62 53.95/60.67
Phelps: 25.64 54.81 1:24.71 1:54.58 54.81/59.77
Esposito is double-defending European Champion in the 200 fly from Seville ('97) and again two years later in Istanbul, with times of 1:57.23-1:57.20. At Sydney he went a 1:57.04 in the semis and didn't final.
Last summer at Fukuoka, he and America's Tom Malchow tied for the top spot in the semis with 1:55.03s, then the second-fastest performance behind Phelps' world-record 1:54.92 at the U.S. World Championships Trials in Austin.
In the finals, Phelps, of course, got the gold and the world record, Malchow took the silver and Russia's Anatoliy Poliakov the bronze, with Esposito fourth by .04.
"I believe I am capable of going faster — I won't predict how much faster but I am confident I can get the world record, perhaps at Berlin [European Championships in July]," Esposito said on the French federation's website.
Aside from his pair of Euro Championship golds, Esposito has never occupied the top spot on the podium at either an Olympics or World Championships but his record this evening would seem to make him a viable contender. No swimmer over age 30 has ever won gold at a major international competition. Phelps, who is
the youngest male ever to set a world record, which he did just over a year ago at age 15, is also one of the youngest men to win a World Championship title (Australia's Ian Thorpe is the youngest).
American Brian Goodell won a pair of golds in the 400 and 1500 freestyles at the Montreal Olympics when he was 16.
Phelps also had the advantage of having stiff competition at Fukuoka whereas Esposito's closest pursuer was Joanes Hedel, who was runner-up in 2:00.59
(pr 1:59.79 in the semis).
Should Esposito "three-peat" at Berlin, he'd still be one win behind Great Britain's James Hickman's four-consecutive World Short Course Championship 200 fly titles, including his latest in Moscow.
Perhaps that wag who suggested Esposito might be interested in taking a crack at a few Masters 30-34 age group records in the not too distant future
will be forced to eat his word processor after tonight!
* * * * *.
In the other men's final, 100 back champ Roger Pierre won the 50 in 26.45, a pr but well off the French record of 25.71 by Franck Schott from '94. The Euro Record is 25.72 by Germany's Thomas Rupprath from Fukuoka.
The world-record is 24.99 by America's Lenny Krayzelburg, who's been laid low by injuries but is now on the comeback trail, and anxious to reclaim his
200 back wr that was recently broken by fellow American Aaron Peirsol at the U.S. Nationals in Minneapolis last month.
Peirsol then went on to win the gold and set the sc world record in Moscow.
On the women's side, Ukraine's double Olympic gold medalist Yana Klochkova won the 200 IM in an easy 2:14.39. Her European and Olympic record is 2:10.68 from Sydney and many regard that as the true world record too.
The official wr is China's Wu Yanyan's 2:09.72 from the National Games in Shanghai in October of 1997, but questions have been raised about Mlle Wu's dietary practices and eating habits. Some have even gone so as to suggest she sprinkles a little something besides strawberries and cream on her Wheaties every morning.
Klochkova was upset by America's Maggie Bowen at the World Championships in this race (although somehow we tend to doubt Bowen or her coach, Auburn's David Marsh, regard her win as an "upset"). The Ukrainian star won the 400 IM with her American adversary runner-up.
In the men's 50 breast Hugues Duboscq twice broke his NR of 28.40, first with a 28.28 in the heats, then a 28.24 in the semis. However, he scratched the finals and the gold went to David Maitre in 28.95.
The Euro standard is 27.51 by Britain's James Gibson in the semifinals of the British Nationals last week,
while the world record is 27.39 America's Ed Moses.
The other final tonight was the women's 800 free, won by Marion Perrotin in 8:40.49. The French record is 8:39.20.