By Phillip Whitten
BRISBANE, Aug 28. THE Goodwill Games are set to begin tomorrow at Brisbane's Chandler Aquatic Centre, featuring a dual meet/round robin format in which four teams — the USA, Australia, Europe and the (rest of the) World — will compete for over half a million dollars in prize money.
Each team consists of up to 23 men and 23 women. Actually, Australia has brought along 50 swimmers –two men and two women will be used as reserves. The US has 19 men and 19 women. According to USA Swimming officials, the other two teams are also shy of the maximum 46 competitors.
Just as in 1998, the teams will compete against each other in a series of dual meets before the top two teams advance to the gold medal match to decide the winners.
The Australians are favored to win both the men's and women's titles mainly because the US has sent a
"Most of our top swimmers wanted a break after the World Championships so this was an ideal chance for us to blood some of the new guys," said U.S. head men's coach Dave Salo, putting the best face on his situation.
The US will be competing without many of its brightest stars. On the men's side, among the missing are Anthony Ervin, Neil Walker, Klete Keller, Josh Davis, Lenny Krayzelburg, Aaron Peirsol, Ed Moses, Brendan Hansen and Michael Phelps. US women not competing in Brisbane include Brooke Bennett, Diana Munz, Natalie Coughlin, Kristy Kowal, Misty Hyman, Maddy Crippen and Maggie Bowen.
The Americans still have a powerful team sprinkled with veterans such as Gary Hall, Jr., Chad Carvin, Tom Wilkens, Lindsay Benko, Haley Cope and Megan Quann, but a good portion of the team consists of promising youngsters competing in their first major international meet.
With the US at less than full strength, the European All Stars loom as the most serious threat to the Australians.
The European teams will be headed by Dutch stars Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn, and both line-ups boast numerous Olympic and world championship medallists.
Australia's Petria Thomas, world champion in 100m and 200m butterfly, said most of the swimmers still did not have a clue how the round-robin system would work but were happy enough to try it.
"We're all a little bit tired after the World Championships but I think we'll be able to lift for it," she said.
"I think it will be fun but it will also be very gruelling. We may not see people set the world on fire and breaking world records but it'll be fun."
World Record Bonus
Goodwill Games organizers have promised a $50,000 bonus to any swimmer who sets a world record during the made-for-television event. But the timing and format of the Games means it is unlikely anyone will
collect the big prize.
Australia's serial record breaker Ian Thorpe has already ruled himself out of the running. The teenager set three individual world records at last month's World Championships in Japan but said the effort drained him so much he won't be able to repeat those performances at the Goodwill Games.
"At this stage I don't think I'm in a position to break a world record," Thorpe said yesterday. "I just don't think I can swim as well as I did in Japan."
Thorpe's Australian teammate Grant Hackett also set a world record in Fukuoka but said he did not expect to do it again because the Goodwill Games were so close to the World Championships.
"Realistically, I don't think it's possible. This has been a very long taper and while you want to swim well, you really don't know where you're at," he said.
With the focus this year on the World Championships, most of the sport's big names took a break after the titles and decided either to skip the Goodwill Games or go into them below their best.
"The World Championships was our peak and you cannot peak twice in a year," explained Dutch triple world champion Inge de Bruijn, who last year managed to peak on several occasions. "We took a vacation after the world championships and this is just going to be for fun."
The team format being used at the Goodwill Games will also make it harder for swimmers to break world records. "I think it will be fun but it will also be very gruelling," said Australia's Petria Thomas. "We may not see people set the world on fire and breaking world records but it'll be fun."