By Craig Lord
HELSINKI, July 8. LARS Frolander, of Sweden, placed Australian Michael Klim in his sights on
the sixth day of the European Championships with a 52.23sec European record that confined Denis Pankratov's Olympic victory time of 52.27sec to
history. There were six other bodysuits in the water and one man in knee-length trunks, but there was only Frolander in the race as he split the half-way mark at 24.36sec, 0.13sec faster than the pace which took Klim
to the world record of 51.81sec last year.
Frolander is now the favorite among Europeans to challenge Klim and Australian teammate Geoff Huegill in Sydney, the absent Franck Esposito's 52.52sec from March looking much in need of improvement if the Frenchman is to hope for a medal. Behind Frolander in Helsinki were Thoma Rupprath, of Germany, at 53.38sec and James Hickman, of Britain, at 53.44sec.
His victory making him the only man ever to win the European 100m butterfly title three times, Frolander said: "I'm really happy about the gold medal and the time. I'd hoped to get the European record and it worked out." He then, oddly, referred to a thigh injury he'd sustained recently which had kept him awawy from training. It was the first time he had
mentioned it all week.
History was also made by Alexander Popov, of Russia, as he established a championship record of 21.98sec, the first time any swimmer has dipped below 22sec at Europe's showcase event. If that was the positive landmark, there was also a negative one, at least if you happened to be Solenne Figues of France.
The final of the women's 200m freestyle got off to an odd start as pre-race favourite, Martina Moravcova, of Slovakia, refused to budge from her blocks until the others were already in the water on on their way. The
speaker on her lane that sounds the claxon had failed to work and she had imagined that those in the lanes either side of her had false started. Her subsequent compalint to the referee fell on deaf ears.
Moravcova, Dallas coach Steve Collins looking on in amazement,finally set off and split the first 50m in 29.32sec. By 100m she had moved up to fourth on 59.20, but was still a second down on Camelia Potec Figues, and Natalia Baranovskaya, of Belorussia. And that is where the race ended as Baranovskaya took control from Potec with 15 meters to go and stopped the clock at 1:59.29 to the Romanian's 1:59.95, Figues holding on for the bronze medal in 2mins 00.36sec. Moravcova faded back to seventh, exhausted by the chase, and ending with a time of 2:01.6.
After the race, however, Nina van Koeckhoven, of Belgium, said that she too had suffered because the claxon had not sounded at the speaker on her lane.
Belgium submitted a protest and Moravcova was overheard to say to Collins in the warm-down pool: "I'm not doing it again." However, the
protest was upheld by Ray Kendall from Ireland and the race was reswum at the end of the session under protest from the French, Spanish and Italians.
Their protest fell and the race went almost exactly as the first race had gone, apart from the presence of Moravcova.
Baranovskaya sprinted away from Moravcova and Potec with 20 metres to go, this time winning the title in 1:59.51. Moravcova was second in 2:00.08, with Potec third at 2:00.32. Figues was left looking up at the
board in disbelief, her 2mins 00.68sec only 0.34sec worse than her first effort but no longer good enough for a medal. A tearful Figues left the pool distraught.
The upset of the sixth day came in the women's 200m breaststroke, when Beatrice Coada-Caslaru, the 24-year-old Romanian, passed Agnes Kovacs, of Hungary, in the closing 10 meters and out-touched the champion to win her second title of the championships in a career best of 2:26.76. Kovacs would not comment after a 2:26.85sec effort that left her disappointed and
resulted in what looked like a serious lecture from coach Laszlo Kiss. Third was Karine Bremond in a French record of 2:28.20.
Gordan Kozulj, 23 and from Zagreb in Croatia, may be one to watch over 200m backstroke – if he can one day hold the pace that won him the race over the first 100m; his 57.05sec split was 1.03sec inside the time clocked by Martin Lopez-Zubero on his way to the European record, and then world record, of 1:56.57sec, set in 1991. Kozulj was still 0.04sec inside the Spaniard's split at 150m before fading to finish first in 1:58.62, comfortably ahead of Emanuele Merisi, of Italy, at 2:00.02, and Yoav Gath,19 and from Israel, at 2:00.32.
In the absence of rested teams from the Netherlands and Germany and no team at all from Britain, the 4 by 200m freestyle went to Italy, in 7:16.52, Massimiliano Rosolino, the 200m individual champion, clocking the
best lead-off split, of 1:47.58. Germany was second on 7:18.96, with the Netherlands third at 7:19.91, the sharpest performance of any coming from Pieter van den Hoogenband, in 1:46.05.
At lunchtime, LEN presented Berlin as the host of the 2002 European Championships, not without a little controversy. Founding member Great Britain will not be present at the championships if, as seems likely, the
dates, July 24 – August 4, cannot be changed; the Commonwealth Games swimming program is hosted in Manchester in the same week. LEN have asked if the Commonwealth Games might switch its swimming and track and field program, a grand gesture given that the Games dates have been on the FINA calendar these past four years but Berlin was announced as 2002 host in
March this year.
Alessandro Sansa, director of LEN, said that August would be "the wrong time, a bad time" to host the championships for reasons of holidays, school
exams and so forth. It would, however, it was pointed out to him, not clash with other televised sports during the summer in Europe, and would fit a
well-established pattern; the European championships have been held in August or September at 22 of the past 25 championships – a long time to be holding the showcase event as "the wrong time, a bad time". The power of TV money, it seems, knows no bounds. Have a great championship the ZDF channel.
Meanwhile, LEN still has a case to answer about its guardianship of the sport in Europe. Partly in response to a switch of world long-course championships to uneven years, LEN has this year moved the European event to even years and in so placing its showcase in the path of the Olympic Games has suffered a loss of quality.
The absence of a British team in 2002 can only further reduce the value of a European title. What value a gold medal when won, as it was by Anatoli Poliakov over 200m butterfly, in the absence of the four fastest
Europeans this year, all of whom have their sights set singularly on Sydney? The history of European swimming is in danger of being undermined, and its future undervalued. LEN should be doing all it can to ensure that the best swimmers on the continent not only compete at its championships but compete to win.