June 20. ON the final day of the French World Championship Trials in Chamaliers the initial Saturday of last month, Algerian sprinter Salim Iles won the 50 free in a national-record 22.59.
And just whom did Mr. Iles beat for the title?
None other than Holland's double world record-holder/ double Olympic Champ Pieter The Great, aka Pieter van den Hoogenband, who was second in 22.86.
The time was no fluke. At a meet last weekend, Iles proved he is the REAL Deal.
At the Vittel Cup in Toulouse the second weekend of this month, the 25-year-old Algerian who trains with the Racing Club of France blistered the field in the 100 free with a national and African-record 49.40, plus a 22.7 50 free win.
What is even more impressive about Iles' fast times is that he's doing it against weak competition. In the 100, the runner-up swimmer was in the 51s and in the 50 the second-place man was in the mid-23s.
We're not necessarily suggesting for a minute that we believe Iles will be atop the podium in Fukuoka come the latter part of next month, not when van den Hoogenband, Irvin, England's Mark Foster, Australia's Ian Thorpe, Poland's Bart Kizierowski, Sweden's Lars Frolander or Russia's Alex Popov are all in prime form.
But the Algerian swimmer has displayed outstanding form so far this summer. and if he keeps improving at his current pace… well, who would have thought that at mid-June, 37-year-old Barry Bonds would be on a pace to hit 80 home runs this season?
Popov swam spectacularly during the Mare Nostrum Series in Europe earlier this month, going a world-leading 21.91 for the 50. But the competition was intense in every meet — all the "Big Guns" had their sights trained squarely on the quadruple Olympic champ.
By contrast, Iles is Secretariat competing against a bunch of yearlings who just aren't in his league.
The old African record of 49.44 that Iles broke belonged to USA Swimming National Resident Team head coach Jonty Skinner, who set it during the AAU Championships at Philadelphia in August of 1976.
Skinner was then a young South African swimming for Coach Don Gambril at the University of Alabama who yearned to compete in that summer's Olympics in Montreal but was barred by the IOC due his country's policy of apartheid – racial dominance. (Ironically, Skinner was penalized for a policy he, personally, opposed. – Editor)
So that summer's championships in Philly was his
"Olympics" and Skinner made the most of it, going 49.44 to break the world record of 49.99 set by America's Jim Montgomery two weeks earlier at Montreal — a time that not only won the gold but made the former Indiana Hoosier the first man ever under 50 seconds.
Skinner's world record lasted until 1981, when the USA's Rowdy Gaines lowered it to 49.36. However his African mark remained on the books a full quarter century until young Mr. Iles came along.
Iles swam in the Mare Nostrum series and achieved only modest results (third a couple of times in 50+ efforts) and he didn't make it out of the Sydney
prelims last year. However, he's been going 49s for two months now and could be a World Championship medalist at Fukuoka.
Other results from the Vittel Cup included distance specialist Sylvain Cross' 3:56.78-15:47.14 400-1500 wins and breaststroker Yohan Bernard's 1:03.63-2:15.08 victories.
Preseumably next on Mr. Iles' agenda is the African 50 free record of 22.04 by South Africa's Roland Schoeman, who swam his pr at the USS Nationals in
Minneapolis a couple of years ago.
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At last weekend's Golden Bear Invitational in Zagreb, Croatia, Popov showed he's still among the world's elite at age 31, winning the 50 in 22.06 and the 100 in 49.43 — his seasonal best. Runner-up in the one-lapper was Foster (22.61) while Hungary's Attila Zubor took second in the 100 (49.76).
Foster ranks third globally in the 50 off his 22.13 NR during the British Grand Prix in Manchester in late May.
With his 21.91-49.49 atMonte Carlo last week and then a 22.06-49.43 here, Popov is clearly the fastest sprinter on the blocks — right now. So why is the Russian Rocket going so fast so early? Theories abound but the words of an experienced swimming observer close to the Czar make sense.
"He wants to prove two things: first, Sydney was a fluke and second he wants to send a message to his coach [Gennadi Touretski] that he supports him 115%."
Touretski has been accused by Australian authorities of possession of illegal drugs and the accusations have stung both coach and swimmer alike. Rumors have also been floated about Popov's use of the "juice" but he has never been implicated in any drug controversy during his decade-long reign at the top.
In any event, at Zagreb, former Cal All-America Gordan Kozulj, who swims for the host nation, won the 100-200 backstrokes (55.64-1:58.95, seasonal prs) with countryman Marko Strahija second in the 100 (56.38)and third in the 200 (2:02.38). Strahija swam collegiately for Coach Bill Wadley's Ohio State Buckeyes in the mid-'90s.
Ageless Hungarian Karoly Guttler(33) won the 50 breast (28.75) and the host country's Vanja Rogulj dropped his 100 breast NR to 1:02.28 en route to victory. He's dropped nearly a second this summer from his old NR of 1:03.1 from Sydney. An international newcomer, Ukraine's 18-year-old Igor Borisek won the 200 (2:24.91).
In the butterflys it was German's Thomas Rupprath swepping the50-100-200 races in 24.14, 52.83 and 1:58.60, respectively. Although he's been fractionally faster, those are fast times for the German star.
Ukraine's Volodymyr Nikolaychuk won the 200 IM (2:04.01) and also got second in the 200 back.
In women's races, Sweden's double Olympic silver medalist (and former Nebraska Cornhusker) Therese Alshammar with wins in the 50-100 frees (25.03,
2nd globally) and 56.64. She also won the 50 fly (26.64).
Germany's Antje Buschschulte was tops in the three backstroke races, winning the 50 (29.56), 100 (1:03.26) and 200 (2:15.84).
Another "ageless wonder," Belgium's 30-year-old Brigitte Becue, won the 100 breast (1:12.83) with Slovenia's Anja Kliner the 200 (2:35.22).
Denmark's Mette Jacobsen, a mere 28, won the 100 fly (1:00.88) and Hungarian record-holder Eva Risztov was tops in the 200 (2:11.45) with Ukraine's Yana Klochkova second (2:11.53). The latter won the 200 IM in 2:18.49 and was Sydney gold medalist in both medleys. For good measure, she also won the 400 free.
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At the 9th Games of the Small States of Europe in San Marino the first weekend in June, Iceland's Orn Arnason, who will swim for Coach Mark Schubert's University of Southern California Trojans this fall, was the big winner.
The Icelandic youngster won the 50-100-200 frees, both backstrokes (where he ranked fifth gloablly last year off his 1:58.99 national record in the Olympic semis) and the 400 IM.
His winning times: frees: 23.53, 51.54. 1:51.23; back: 57.22, 2:06.97; and IM: 4:35.11.
His 100 back pr-NR is a 56.44 from a meet in Denmark in April.
Runner-up in the 100-200 frees was San Marino's Diego Mularoni (52.83-1:53.70). He moved up a notch to win both the 400 (3:56.73 to Arnason's 3:56.91) and 1500 frees (15:57.20 to San Marino's Emanuele Nicolini's 16:33.25).
The breaststrokes were divided between Luxembourg's Alwin De Prins (pr-NR 1:03.79) and Iceland's Jakob Johan Sveinnsson (pr-NR 2:17.88).
The 100 fly went to 100 back runner-up Eric Rottinger of Monaco (57.25) while the 200 was won by mile second-placer Nivolini (2:08.21). Iceland's Omar Snaevar Fridriksson gave his nation a sweep of the IMs with a win in the 200 fly, 2:09.27 to runner-up Cypriot George Demetriades' 2:09.47.
There were no relays.
In women's races, Iceland again was the dominant nation, winning the 100-200-400 frees, the 100-200 backstroke, the 100-200 breastsroke and both medleys.
Cypress was the only other country to register a win, taking firsts in the 50 and 800 frees plus both flys.
The 50 free was won by Anna Styliano (27.07) with teammate Maria Papadopolou sixth (28.98).
However, in the 100 fly Papadololou showed her heels to the field, winning in 1:04.20 to teammate Natalia Roubina's 1:04.72.
Roubina turned the tables on her teammate in the 200 fly, winning in 2:16.89 to Papadolopou's 2:20.37. She also touched first in the 800 (9:07.73).
For the record, the Icelandic winners were: Kolbrun Kristjansdottir (100 free, 58.32; 100 back, 1:06.50); Lara Bjargardottir (200-400 frees, 2:04.86-4:28.11; 200-400 IMs, 2:23.91-5:03.80); Iris Edda Heimsdottir
(100-200 breast, 1:13.79-2:38.20).
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At the Rome/Seven Hills Invitational stop on the Mare Nostrum Tour, Canadian breaststroker Morgan Knabe suggested in no uncertain terms that Italy's Domenico Fioravanti — double Olympic champ in the 100-200 breaststrokes — trains on something a bit more substantial than pasta e vino.
Knabe later apologized and retracted his statements (see swiminbfo). Fioravanti's success at Sydney was indeed impressive and he's gotten consistently faster over the last five seasons — dropping in the 100 from a 1:03.20 in 1996 to a 1:02.29 to a 1:02.13 to a 1:01.34 and, finally, his European record 1:00.44 to win the Olympic gold.
His major breakthrough was in 1999 when he went that 1:01.34 to win the European Championships in Istanbul. He was runner-up at last year's Euros
to Russia's Roman Sloudnov, the then world record-holder.
In the 200 his improvement has been even more remarkable. The 24-year-old Italian was consistently in the 2:15+-2:17+ range until last year, when he swam that stunning 2:10.87 to rank No. 1 globally and win his second Sydney gold.
In 1996 his pr was 2:17.15. The next year he was down to 2:15.17, the next 2:17.64. In 1999 he did 2:15.00. then came the Olympics and the mother of all breakthroughs.
Even at last summer's European Championships he was runner-up to Russia's Dimitri Komornikov (2:13.09-2:14.87) and nothing in his previous swims presaged his Olympic succeess.
But he presumably was tested and found to be "kosher" so his name's in the record books and you can't take that away from him.
However, America's Ed Moses broke the world record in the 100 breast at the Trials, got the 50 standard too and was just a tick off Mike Barrowman's 200 wr that's lasted since Barcelona.
He's said he's aiming for four golds (three ndividual, one relay) at Fukuoka so Fioravanti — and Knabe — will have their work cut out for them.
– Bill Bell