By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, July 22. AT the World Championships in Barcelona last year, Germany’s Antje Buschschulte won her first individual Championship gold, taking the 100m backstroke. However, the quietly spoken science student majoring in neurobiology has been very much part of the German team since her debut in Atlanta as a 17-year-old where she finished sixth in the final of the 100m back and picked up a bronze as part of the 400m freestyle relay.
At the Sydney Olympics she picked up another bronze as part of the 800m freestyle relay, alongside her vastly more publicized teammate Franziska van Almsick, but missed the final of her pet event, the 100m backstroke, by just one place after going into the event with the world leading time.
Third time around, Buschschulte qualified for Athens in the dorsal double and the 100m freestyle (finishing just one one-hundredth of a second behind van Almsick in the German Trials) but she has since decided to skip the freestyle in order to concentrate on the 800m freestyle relay in which the Germans, along with the Aussies and Yanks, are a strong show. In the dorsal events she is ranked fourth globally in the 100m with a 1:01.10 and eighth in the 200m with a 2:12.16 leading into the Big O’s.
Buschschulte along with high profile teammates Hannah Stockbauer, van Almsick and almost half the German team have just arrived back in Germany after Olympic preparations in a high altitude training camp in the Sierra Nevada’s in Spain. Buschschulte has been back training under her preferred coach, Bernd Henneberg at the SC Magdeburg, for two seasons now and it is his emphasis on the benefits of altitude training she says that have contributed to some strong performances both at the World Champs and then the European Short Course Champs last year.
Buschschulte told SwimInfo from her training camp in Spain that she was naturally happy to have qualified for the two backstroke events and possibly three relays (she finished 5th in the 200m freestyle).
“Training has been going well here, there is not much else to do but train but at least the weather is warm and sunny, Germany has been cold,” she said. “High altitude training worked well for me in competition last year and I hope it will work well for the Olympics as well, I am looking forward to Athens.”
When asked about her performance at the German trials she admitted that they had misjudged her taper a little. “Really my racing did not go well, when I analyzed my performance with my coach afterwards we feel that I did not relax enough before the competition because I had done a lot of training in preparation,” she explained.
"I did not feel the pressure of being world champion in 100m backstroke, I just had a bad race, and my time was bad. The same goes for the 200m I can swim faster but it’s not a race I like so much (where have I heard that before, Natalie?).”
However, with the likes of Natalie Coughlin skipping this event, it represents a real opportunity for a shot at the gold medal for Buschschulte, particularly after her outstanding win at the European Short Course Champs where she went a new Euro record 2:04.23 just eight-tenths outside Coughlin's global mark.
In the 100m free she made a practical decision to pass the event even though she was just touched out by Franzi van Almsick in the Trials and having made the final in that event in Barcelona last July. Buschschulte decided that she would concentrate her energies on the 800m freestyle relay which is also on day five of competition, the same day as the 100m free heats and semifinals. “I think our relays will be strong so it is the best decision for me,” she said.
When I asked Buschschulte about whether the long-held German media fascination for everything associated with Franzi affected her at the national Ttrials she said, “it certainly makes it easier for me because the media always concentrates on Franzi, it definitely gives me some peace.”
And speaking of Franzi – the 26-year-old will be heading off to a rare fourth Olympics in search of her first gold medal. The current world record-holder over 200m freestyle began her turbulent career in Barcelona when she was touched out for gold in that event by American Nicole Haislett and then again by Claudia Poll in Atlanta. She missed the final in Sydney. Franzi will certainly be a big chance in a very open 200m in Athens but less likely in her other individual events the 100m free and fly.
I asked Buschschulte what she thought of the fact that the German Trials were run over only five days (compared with the Olympic program of eight days) which was also the case in 2000 where the Germans as a team performed very poorly after some world-best performances at their trials. “I think it is a good way, eight days are too long, we (Germany) are not as big as America,” she countered.
From my perspective, this is a big issue: Rehearsing the added pressure of semi-finals (and a few relays) is a must, as the extended period certainly impacts upon a swimmer's stamina and considerations in relation to the length of a taper.
Buschschulte said she is well prepared for Athens having experienced the program in big events before. Only time will tell what this quiet achiever of German swimming will etch into the record books in just a few short weeks.