MONTE CARLO, June 11. WITH the World Championships less than six weeks away, fast times were the order of the day in the second afternoon of competition in the Mare Nostrum Series.
The meet's second stop, which concluded today, featured world-leading swims by Austria's Mirna Jukic in the 200 breast (national record 2:25.70) and Russia's Czar Alex Popov's No. 1 22.09 to handily win the 50 free.
Jukic's previosu NR was a 2:25.83 that won her the gold at last summer's European Championships. She's still got a ways to go to equal (or surpass) the Euro record of 2:24.02 by Hungary's and Arizona State's Agnes Kovacs that won her the gold at Sydney. But at the rate Jukic has been dropping of late, she'll be a very determined competitor at the World Championships, hoping to prove that her gold in Berlin last August was not just a once-in-a-lifetime swim.
Kovacs is defending World Champion too, taking the top spot with a championship-record 2:24.90.
Belarus' Alena Popchenko, Euro Championship silver-medalist in the 200 free (NR 1:57.94) who helped push Germany's Franziska van Almsick to the world-record, won her third gold today and — similar to Jukic — is looking for bigger and better worlds to conquer come Barcelona.
She won the 100 free in 54.83, not far from her world-leading 54.64 which she swam in late April during the French Championshups at Saint Etienne. Her NR is 54.62 from Berlin. Combined with her wins in the 200 free and 100 fly, Popchenko was the meet's only triple gold-medalist.
In the 100 she defeated Finlandd's rapidly improving Hanna-Maria Seppal, who clocked 54.92 — just shy of her NR 54.86 from the Akropolis International meeting in Athens last month. Seppala defeated Holland's Marleen Veldhuis to win the 50 free, 25.72-25.77, with her time a tenth off her NR 25.62 at Athens.
Australia's Kasey Giteau, 200 free runner-up, won the 400 in 4:10.65. It makes her the seventh-fastest Aussie all-time and marks the first time an Aussie woman has gone under 4:11 since Haley Lewis in the mid-1990s.
Giteau, 20, had come back to serious competition this year with new resolve after taking a year off, returning to coach Tony Shaw who had previously guided her to a place in the 400 free at the Sydney Olympics as a 17-year-old. Giteau missed selection on the Aussie team for Barcelona in March but her time today was over a second faster that the time clocked by Elka Graham to win the selection trials. Giteau also clocked a PR 2:01.06 in the 200 free yesterday.
A bit of an oddity occurred in the 50 back where Spain's Nina Zhivanevskaya and the Czech Reupblic's Hanna Hlavacova tied for the gold in 28.88. The former then went on to win the 100 back in a seasonal-best 1:01.00. Her Spanish record is 1:00.88 from Sydney while her career-best is 1:00.83 from the 1994 World Championships in the Rome Olympic Pool, when she was still competing for Russia.
In the 50 breast, defending Euro Champ Emma Igelstrom of Sweden won with her 31.60 to Russia's Elena Bogomazova's 31.75. Igelstrom won the gold at Berlin in an NR 31.07. The world-record is 30.49 by Great Britain's Zoe Baker from last summer's Commonwealth Games. and Baker has stated she believes she can put the record "in the 29s." (Baker is the only currently active swimmer to hold the triple crown, i.e., the world, European and Commonwealth records in a single long course event.)
Poland's Euro Champ and world 200 fly record-holder Otylia Jedrezjczak won her specialty (2:11.67) and defending World Champion Yana Klochkova of Ukraine swept the 400 IM (4:43.17).
In men's action, Popov's 22.09 knocked Holland's Johan Kenkhuis (22.14) off the No. 1 spot in the 50. Olympic champ Pieter van den Hoogenband won the 200 free with his seasonal best ((1:47.22). He had been 1:47.86 during the French Nationals.
Hoogie won the 100-200 frees at Sydney, upsetting hometown favorite and world record-holder Ian Thorpe in the latter. The Thorpedo returned the favor at Fukuoka (World Championships) 10 months later, winning with his current world-record of 1:44.06. King Pieter lowered his continental record of 1:45.35 at Sydney with a 1:44.89 in Berlin, but Thorpe still led the world in '02 with his 1:44.75 from the Pan-Pac Championships.
This year, Thorpedo also ranks No. 1 globally with his 1:45.35 from the Australian World Championship Trials in March, Hoogie's exact winning Olympic time!
Thorpe's loss at the Olympics is his only major defeat by anybody in either the 200 or 400 frees in the last five years. Will history repeat itself next month? Stay tuned.
In the 50 back, Spains' David Ortega made it a Spanish twosome as he won in 25.95. Romania's Razvan Florea scored his second gold with his 1:59.77 200 back win and Russia's Dimitri Komonikov — who yesterday set a European rcord in the 200 breast (2:10.39, No. 1 globally for '03) — won the 100 in a pr 1:01.49. His old career-best was a 1:01.64 from the Russian WCTs two years ago.
However, he's got some big dropping to do before he's the No. 1 Russian sprint breaststroker. That honor belongs to teammate Roman Sloudnov, the world record-holder and only man ever under 1:00.0. Sloudnov swam 59.94 in the semis at Fukuoka after becoming the first man under a minute with his 59.97 at the Russian Trials a month earlier. He won the World Championship gold in 1:00.16 and also holds his country's 50 breast record (27.60).
Ukraine's Oleg Lisogor, defending Euro Champ 100 breast titlest (1:00.29) was second (1:02.27). America's Mark Gangloff, a key member of Coach David Marsh's NCAA Champion Auburn Tiger team, was third (1:02.69).
Fastest 100 flyer was Russia's Igor Marchenko (52.97) while Berlin silver-medalist Andrei Serdinov of Ukraine was next (53.11). Serdinov's NR is a 52.17. The world-leader is America's Michael Phelps' 51.84 U.S. standard from the Australian dual-meet at Indianapolis in April, second-best performance ever.
(Australia's Michael Klim, out of action with a back injury, is world record-holder with his 51.81 from a time trial at the Australian Institute of Sport in December of '99).
Raomania's Cesar Badita won the 400 IM (4:22.83).
In the 50 fly The Netherlands' Joris Keizer won in an NR 23.68, breaking the old Dutch record of 23.88 by van den Hoogenband.
The meet's oustanding performance, of course, was the Euro record by Komonikov in the 200 breast. Jukic on the women's side along with Popchenko were the outstanding performers and Seppala showed that she too could well be a factor in Barcelona.
Whether she'll duplicate the feat of countryman Jani Sievinen, who set a world-record in the 200 IM nine long years ago at the World Championships in Rome (making him the only Finn to set a world record in at least four decades-plus)…only time will tell.
The circuit now heads to the World Championship venue, Barcelona, on Saturday-Sunday and concludes Monday and Tuesday of next week in Canet, France.
Full results are availabgle at: www.marenostrumswim.com.