German Outlook is Hazy as Nationals/World Champs Trials End

By Josh Jeffrey

HAMBURG, Germany, May 18. THE fifth and final day of the German Nationals/World Championship Trials left a puzzling picture for the fate of the German team at this summer's World Championships. Times in comparison to the last World Championship Trials in 2001 have been much slower, but there are a few bright spots the team will look to for guidance in Barcelona.

Not the least of which is Thomas Rupprath, who won his third event of the meet in the 50 meter butterfly, touching at 23.90, just off his national record (23.77) set at last year's European Championships. Second place went to Lars Conrad at 24.31, who just held off Johannes Dietrich, third at 24.37.

Annika Mehlhorn took her third title of the meet in winning the 100 meter butterfly over Franzi van Almsick. Mehlhorn's time of 59.69 was just enough to slip by Franzi, who finished at 59.81. Surprisingly, this was van Almsick's third second place finish of the meet, with her only win coming in the 200 meter freestyle, where she holds the world record. Third place went to Nele Hoffmann at 1:01.47.

Thomas Lurz, winner of the men's 800 and 1500 meter freestyles here found himself in unfamiliar territory today. He had a race on his hands as the top four men in the 400 meter freestyle all finished within a half second of each other. At the touch though, it was Jens Kuhlmann who would take the win at 3:55.06, with Lurz just behind at 3:55.25. Third went to Johannes Oesterling, a mere three hundredths back from Lurz at 3:55.28.

Germany's current crop of distance swimmers have big shoes to fill, as the current German record of 3:46.95 was set by the former GDR's Uwe Dassler — albeit with some chemical help — in winning the event at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Dassler's time would even have been competitive by today's standards, and would rank fourth overall for the year 2002.

Antje Buschshulte didn't want to be left out of the party, as she too took a third win, this time in the women's 200 meter backstroke over golden oldie Cathleen Rund. Buschschulte's time of 2:12.01 was under a second off her best time of 2:11.12 set at the 2000 German Olympic Trials. Rund, the bronze medalist in this event at the Atlanta Olympics, finished second here with a time of 2:13.77, well off her personal best of 2:10.98 from the 1995 European Championships.
Third place went to IM specialist Nicole Hetzer (2:14.53).

Christian Keller, a ten-plus year veteran of the German national team, won his specialty this evening, the 200 meter individual medley, but not without competition. Newcomer and 200 breaststroke winner Kamil Kasprowicz gave him all he could handle. At the wall though, it was Keller who emerged victorious. His time of 2:03.28 was well off his personal best and German record time of 2:01.06, set back in 1993. Kasprowicz finished second in 2:03.81, with Jochem Hanz third in 2:04.90.

Interestingly enough, Jens Kruppa, also a long time national team vet, did not contest this event, nor the 200 breaststroke, where he currently holds the German record. Kruppa's time of 2:01.10 from last year's European championships would have been more than enough to win here, and was a mere .04 from Keller's record.

The women's 400 freestyle saw Hannah Stockbauer once again relegate Jana Henke into second place, this time with a 4:09.59, her best since 2001. Henke finished second in 4:11.22, with Sara Harstick third at 4:16.98. In winning here, Stockbauer notched her third gold of the meet to join Rupprath, Mehlhorn, and Buschschulte as the most prolific winners of the meet.

In looking at the results from this meet, one has to wonder how seriously some swimmers are taking this year's World Championships in light of next year's Olympic Games. Jens Kruppa did not contest his best events, and the women's team in particular will be diluted without the strength of Franzi van Almsick, who has stated she will not join the German team for Barcelona. She has yet to achieve the elusive Olympic gold, and remains singularly focused, allowing that World Championships no longer hold any allure for her.

This will provide a fantastic opportunity for Germany's young talent to prove its mettle, as a corps of steely, battle-tested veterans prepare to share the reigns with the next generation of superstars.

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