By Craig Lord
HELSINKI, July 7. HAD it been 1999, the defeat of Emiliano Brembilla over 1,500m and Pieter van den Hoogenband over 200m freestyle would have been major upsets to talk about in the bar at the European Championships. But this is 2000. The Olympic Games loom large and the elite of European swimming appear to be engaged in what could be the finest gathering of talent for a week-long training camp in swimming history.
The talk in the bar is about what might happen in Sydney in September but little that is happening in races here in Helsinki gives much of a clue to what will follow at the big event of the year Down Under.
Capitalizing on the tiredness of Pieter van den Hoogenband, Massi Rosolino, of Italy, raced ahead of the Dutch six-times European champion of 1999 from 100m to the end of the 200m, stopping the clock at a career best of 1:47.31sec, to his rival's 1:47.62sec. It was a two-man race, Paul Palmer's comfortable bronze for Britain requiring only 1:49.54.
Rosolino, a Neopolitan whose mother is Australian, appears to be among the few Sydney medal hopes to have rested up for Helsinki. Palmer said: "You'd have to be an idiot to rest up just 10 weeks before the Games,"
before qualifying his view with: "It's what works for you. I'm almost sure Rosolino will be faster in Sydney but we all have to find what works for us." His words summed up the impossibility and insignificance of comparing one performance to another. Van den Hoogenband appeared singularly unaffected by his defeat, saying: "It went okay. the time was good as I
haven't concentrated so much on these championships. Hopefully I'll be first when it counts at the Olympics."
Rosolino, after hearing his teammates sing their way through the national anthem as he received his second gold medal of the championships was happy with his time and tactics but not his technique, which he said
would be improved in the short time before he travels Down Under for his battle against the likes of Ian Thorpe, when a 1:47.0 is unlikely to win much more than a pat on the back and a hot shower. Rosolino, who won the 200m medley in Helsinki in the fastest time in the world this year, said that the 200m freestyle was "more important than the 200m medley".
Where the tactics of one Italian succeeded, those of another did not. Emiliano Brembilla, from San Pietro, took off at what looked like a snail's pace compared to his rivals in the 1,500 metres. By 100m he was almost 3 seconds behind Igor Chervynskiy, the 18-year-old Ukrainian who went on to win his first European title in 15mins 05.31sec, to the Italian's 15:06.42.
The Ukrainian's battle for 1,350m of the race was entirely with Dragos Coman, the 19-year-old Romanian who finished second to another Ukrainian, Igor Snitko at the European championships last year. Snitko was out of this year's race from the start and finished seventh in 15:24.27. Meanwhile, his younger teammate in lane 4 was clocking 1-minute per 100m splits one
after another alongside Coman in lane 5, with Brembilla doing likewise but some 7 seconds back from the helm of the race and out of touch over in lane
At 800m, the Italian, who won the title in a sub 15-minute effort in 1997, appeared to wake up to the reality of his predicament and gradually inched his way closer to the battle for gold. With 200m to go, however, Brembilla was still almost 4 seconds adrift. He started to sprint. By 1,400m he was 3.22sec behind Chervynskiy and 2.03sec behind the fading Coman. In the next length he caught and passed Coman, splitting a second ahead of him with 50m to go but still 1.8sec behind the Ukrainian. He had left himself too much to do but may have learned a valuable lesson if he is
to have a prayer of being in contention with the likes of fast-starting Grant Hackett and Kieren Perkins in Sydney. A tired Coman hung on for the bronze in 15:10.97.
Quality shone through in the form of US-trained Martina Moravcova. The Slovakian raced her way into the final of the 200m freestyle in 2:00.96sec an hour or so before racing to victory in the final of the 100m
butterfly in 58.72sec. Coached by Steve Collins at SMU, Dallas, Moravcova, turned at the 50m almost a full second behind Swede Anna Kammerling's 26.92sec
split but level with another Swede, Johanna Sjoberg, and Otylia Jedrzejczak, the 16-year-old Pole who threatens a great future.
As Moravcova's fitness and experience edged her to the head of the race, it was the young Pole who responded. A poor finish robbed the teenager of what would have been a first international senior title. Moravcova touched 0.25sec ahead of Jedrzejczak, with Sjoberg, silver medal winner in 1999 and bronze medal winner in 1997, third at 59.29.
Moravcova said: "It was a tough race. I don't know where I got the strength to get such a good finish. I guess it was just the drive to get my first gold medal here. I was rather tired after the 200m free. I'm swimming a lot of races here because I need to get more starts to help me prepare for the Olympics."
Denied the race that might have been by the disqualification of Germany's defending champion Sandra Voelker for a faulty turn, Nina Zhivanevskaya, the Russian racing for Spain these days, clocked 1:01.02sec to win the 100m backstroke comfortably over Diana Mocanu of Romania (1:01.54) and newcomer Louise Ornstedt, the European junior champion of 1999
from Denmark (1:01.88). Zhivanevskaya, who was disappointed not to have dipped below 1:01 and set a personal best for the first time since competing for Russia at the 1994 world championships, is clearly a medal candidate in both backstroke events in Sydney.
The same could be said of Hungarian Agnes Kovacs for the breaststroke, though yesterday's qualification for the final of the 200m in 2:27.87 before she retained the 50m title in 31.63sec over Zoe Baker's 32.0sec for
Britain, indicated only that she is fighting fit even in this phase of her training. Mark Warneke, of Germany, also retained the 50m breaststroke title, though he was pushed harder, having to come as close as 0.12sec to his 1999 championship record. His 27.75sec pipped Oleg Lisogor, of Ukraine, by 0.06sec.
Meanwhile, the event of the day was held just before lunch, when, in the media relay a team going by the name of GB1 collected the bronze medal. The squad included James Parrack, former British breaststroke
international, Derek Parr, European Masters 200m butterfly champion (men 55-59), Brett Young, up and coming star of Reuters swimming, and your very own Swimming World correspondent, Craig Lord, who says: "I'm quite pleased with our performance, though we are still all in heavy training for the bar in
Sydney and feel sure better times are ahead of us."