By John Lohn
ASTON, Pennsylvania, September 23. LAST week, we featured the women. This week, it’s the guys’ turn. Since the year is only weeks away from entering its final quarter, we’ve put together a ranking of the top swimmers for 2005. Of course, some things can change in the next few months, and the following rating is only one man’s analysis. Here we go.
GOLD: Grant Hackett, Australia
When the World Championships kicked off in Montreal in July, much of the buzz surrounded Michael Phelps and his quest for an eight-medal haul, exactly what he pulled off at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. By the time the competition ended, however, Grant Hackett had the headlines. And, deservedly so.
At the World Champs, Hackett scorched the pool for three gold medals, in the 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles, winning each event in dominating fashion. For good measure, the Aussie added a silver medal in the 200 free. What made Hackett’s campaign amazing was his swim in the 800 free, where he broke Ian Thorpe’s world record with an eye-popping effort of 7:38.65. Hackett went for the record from the start and, although slowing down the finish, sliced half of a second off the former standard.
Hackett was the only man in Montreal to win a quartet of individual medals and the only man to win three gold on an individual basis. That type of showing was enough for top honors…at least in this book.
SILVER: Aaron Peirsol, United States
The California kid, who now resides and trains in Texas, knows no peer in the backstroke events, and the 2005 season has proven that statement to be true. Early in the year, Peirsol blistered a world record in the 100-meter back at the U.S. World Championships Trials, taking his standard down to 53.17. A few months later, Peirsol turned in an even more impressive showing.
At the World Championships, Peirsol snagged a trio of medals. Aside from winning the 100 and 200 backstroke events, Peirsol helped the U.S. to gold in the 400-meter medley relay, joining forces with Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker and Jason Lezak. In the 200 back, Peirsol slashed his world record with a swim of 1:54.66. The man is so talented, he makes his efforts look easy.
BRONZE: Michael Phelps, United States
Some critics took shots at Phelps for failing to medal at the World Championships in the 100 and 400 freestyle events. What a joke. In his chase to enhance his greatness, Phelps opted to bypass a couple of his pet events at the World Championships, the 200 butterfly and 400 I.M., in exchange for new adventures. For that mentality, Phelps should be applauded.
In Montreal, Phelps was still sterling as he won gold in the 200 I.M. and 200 freestyle, setting an American record in the free event. In his 200 I.M. win, all Phelps did was hold off Laszlo Cseh (Hungary) and Ryan Lochte (U.S.), men who rate as the second and third-fastest performers in history. Add a silver in the 100 butterfly and three gold medals in relay action and Phelps had a stellar year.
South Africa’s Roland Schoeman left the World Championships with a world record in the 50 butterfly, gold in the 50 free and silver in the 100 free. His 50 free time was second-fastest in history. Meanwhile, Brendan Hansen doubled at the World Champs in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes and helped the U.S. win gold in the medley relay. As for Ian Crocker, he blasted his world record in the 100 butterfly down to 50.40, took silver at Worlds in the 50 fly and aided the U.S. gold-medal medley relay.