Priyant Pratap, BehindTheBlocks.com
ROME, Italy, July 31. JANET Jackson's "Together Again" resonates through the Foro Italico and is a perfect theme for these FINA World Championships. The nations competing are plentiful, record breaking, and the medalists aren't made up of just a few countries.
Already the top tier in the medal tally is spread between not only Australia and the United States, but Brazil, China, Germany and Italy. It also reflects the crowds that are appearing consistently throughout the competition. While the Italian flags fill the stadium, there are many French and German supporters around, and aren't containing their excitement to their home countries, but also expressing elation at the victories by, for example, the gold medal winning Chinese 800 free relay team.
A surprise press conference went ahead with a handful of journalists following the meet with Ryan Lochte and Eric Shanteau. Earlier, Laszlo Cseh expressed his frustration with always finishing second to Michael Phelps, something that Lochte has always has to deal with himself. Lochte went on to praise Phelps' contribution to the sport saying that "he put swimming on the map."
Swimming World spoke to Eric Shanteau, who had swum a 2:07 200 breast following a bronze medal in the 200 IM.
"Well I was really surprised with my time in the 200 breast for sure," Shanteau said. "I just wanted to do enough to make the finals and then I saw a 2:07! I think it just takes me back to my college swimming career. A few years ago, I'd have to put in three quality swims in an hour! So, I just channeled that point in my life and my ability to produce those swims and turns out it worked!"
You've really had quite a remarkable year. You've come into your own this year and you were known as ‘Eric Shanteau – Cancer Survivor,' which is an amazing title to have, but you've now, in your own right, managed to move into just being ‘Eric Shanteau, period'. What does this year mean to you?
"Yeah it's been quite an amazing year for me," Shanteau said. "Being a cancer survivor, and being known for one, as you've said is great and something I've been quite proud of, but it's great to now be acknowledged as well for my abilities as a swimmer, and for my work in the pool. It's great to be recognized now based on my achievements that also complement what I've done with fighting cancer"
Christian Sprenger produced a surprising world record in the 200 breast, which seemed to be set up to give Brenton Rickard the win, but within the final meters, Sprenger surged ahead to stop the clock in the fastest time in history. His mother Sharon kept saying, as Brenton was ahead of the world record line, "Go with Brenton, Go with him!"
Soon after, it was Sprenger that surged ahead and at that moment, Rickard's parents turned to Sprenger's mother pointing and laughing saying "Ha, it's you not us!"
A revenge swim by Sprenger who hasn't enjoyed the same success in the 50 and 100 breast, credits his parents with his success. His mother of course is usually the loudest and most vocal of all the Australian parents.
"It's great to have them here, travelling all this way to watch me move through water," Sprenger said. "They've come all this way, I've got to impress them!"
Russian backstroker Arkady Vyatchanin enjoyed two surprise medals in Beijing finishing in bronze position in the 100 and 200 back. While he missed out on a medal in the 100 back, he managed to qualify for the final of the 200 back. When asked about the suits, he said "I really can't comment, because I feel like it's a very, very personal thing."
Not shying away from the suits discussion was Croatian veteran Duje Draganja who won Worlds in Manchester last year in this event. He told Swimming World, "This meet's been pretty disappointing. The suits just aren't helping me a lot because I'm a lot lighter, so it's not giving me the buoyancy that it's giving some of the other guys. It's frustrating! I had a really good 100 free and a good 50 fly".
When Swimming World asked what suit he was wearing, as it was noticeably a Jaked, he responded, with a wink, "I have a contract with Speedo".
Nathan Adrian qualified for a place in the semifinal of the 50 free saying it was his first time under 22s, but he's felt better.
When asked about swimming against members of his training team and how that helps, he responded: "Well it's fun! And, the first people Cesar thanked last night were Brett [Hawke] and Fred [Bousquet]. There're a lot of swimmers I'd like to thank for pushing me in training to swim my best, but they're not here".
Fred Bousquet, after enjoying a bronze medal in the men's 100 free said after the heats of the 50 free, "I can't keep my eyes open! I'm half asleep! It's going to be a tough one, I'm just so glad I made top 16, now I can think about making top 8! There's so much French support here, it's amazing to see the flag of France everywhere!"
Also making his comeback to the 50 free was Cullen Jones, who missed out in 2008 to Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Garrett Weber-Gale.
"I'm so excited about that event," Jones said. "It's my favorite, and probably competitively my best event. Seeing the American team up there I just have a feeling it can get better!"
Speaking of comebacks, Simon Burnett almost missed the Beijing team last year when he wasn't selected to swim individually (due to B times) and it was only until a few weeks after the team announcement that British Swimming changed its mind and decided to enter a 400 free relay. Simon swam the relays and the 100 and 50 frees here.
"That time was the fastest I've ever done in the morning (in the 50 free) and the closest I've ever been to my best. I'm really happy with the time. Obviously, I'd love to have gone a best time, obviously I'd love to have made the semifinal but I'm pleased with where I'm at and I always knew this event was going to be tough. The 100 wasn't so great, this really hasn't been my meet. I was happy with how I did in the heats of the 4×100 but I would have liked to have gone a bit faster in the finals, but I went about the same. The final preparation I've had coming into this meet has been a bit off, it hasn't been right. I'm struggling mate. Not making the team last year in the individuals, and almost not making the team at all was a huge shake up for me and meant I had to go back and revise everything I've been doing. I think it's going to bring the best out of me. It's forcing me to change what I'm doing and think outside the box a bit. We've got a long, a LONG time before Commies next year, and this is only just the beginning of something special for me."
Andrew Lauterstein swam equal to his best time to qualify for the men's 100 fly. Spending most of his time watching Mad Men, The Unit and Beverly Hills 90210, he's been keen to finally get into his main race. With a majority of supporters in friends and family here to see him swim, Swimming World asked Lauto, as he is affectionately known, what this meant to him.
"I can hear them from the blocks, it's great having my uncle and aunt here, my parents and four of my mates seeing me swim," Lauterstein said. "It's amazing they've come all this way and I don't get to see them that much and I hope they enjoy it and enjoy seeing me swim!"
His father, George Lauterstein, traveled to Rome to watch his son swim. He has high hopes for Andrew's chances at a medal, after Andrew finished in a surprise bronze position in 2008.
"I think he can do well if he just keeps with them in the semifinal, and manages to make the final where anything is possible," George said. "I think his main rivals will be Phelps and Cavic after seeing everyone's performance in the heats. I enjoy seeing my son swim, and I think he enjoys seeing his family and friends there. I also enjoy watching swimming and seeing the world at the same time. Whether or not we're there, he'd also do well but these are opportunities we'll never get back, and want to be there to see him achieve his best."
Jakob Andkjaer finished fourth in the men's 50 fly to teammate and best friend Matt Targett, also of Auburn University. Jakob had this to say about Targett's achievement, having himself won a medal in this event, bronze, in 2007.
"It's a bittersweet feeling because I wanted to get a medal myself instead obviously (laughing), and fourth is an awful place to finish but if there was one person I wanted to see there that was going to beat me, it was him," Andkjaer said.
Marieke Guehrer took home Australia's biggest ever payout in swimming last year by taking home $120,000 American dollars for winning the World Cup. Swimming Australia has announced that next week's Australian Short Course Championships will be used to pick teams, and it will serve as selection, due to budget cuts (as opposed to just allowing people to put their hands up to swim those World Cups). Guehrer looks forward to competing here and putting Rome aside,
"Well, I'm really looking forward to maybe swimming all the World Cups, I'm not sure, but it's nice getting that little paycheque!" Guehrer said.
Guehrer was a backstroker representing Australia at the Athens Olympics, and retired shortly after, only to return in 2008 to win the 50 fly at Trials.
"It's been such a whirlwind adventure since I won that race at Trials. I already knew I wasn't going to make the Olympic team and I wasn't prepared enough."
Swimming World asked Guehrer, who manages to look radiant after each medal ceremony, almost effortlessly if she'd ever considered doing a shampoo commercial.
"Wow! That's so nice thank you! I never thought about that, but maybe I can be a Pantene girl! Put in a good word for me!" Guehrer said laughingly.
In yesterday's article, Markus Rogan talked about how he had continually tried to tell Sydney 2000 champion Lars Froelander to retire. Swimming World spoke with Lars about the comment,
"Ha, well he's not so fresh himself!" Froelander said. "He's been a great friend of mine ever since Sydney, and I'm just going to keep swimming for as long as their relay team needs me. I don't train as hard as I used to, but I got to achieve what I wanted in Sydney and then again at World Championships in 2001, when I won, it was a bit hard to regain motivation, but I'm still enjoying the sport. Once there are four swimmers faster than me, I will bow out."