Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
MEDIA, Pennsylvania, June 28. SINCE much of the talk this weekend, especially in our web site's Reaction Time section, was about the Paris Open, I decided to make this week's column about the two-day competition. Plenty took place in the French capital, including the latest foray by Michael Phelps in his preparation for the United States Nationals in August. Here are some thoughts about the events in Paris:
**During the era of high-tech suits, it came up frequently that Alex Popov, in his heyday, clocked his world record of 21.64 in the 50 freestyle in a brief. This topic again arose again when Brazilian superstar Cesar Cielo, the reigning Olympic champion, won the 50 free in Paris with a clocking of 21.55. It is the fastest time ever recorded in textile swimwear.
Now, the time is not a record and will not count for anything officially, but as far as I'm concerned, that swim has to be considered one of the finest of this millennium. Yes, I'm going as far as to say the swim was that impressive. Popov clocked his time in June 2000 and the closest anyone had gotten before the high-tech suits arrived was the 21.69 of South African Roland Schoeman at the 2005 World Championships.
Now, Cielo has sliced nearly a tenth of a second off Popov's legendary performance. In my book, Cielo's effort is worth a standing ovation and a tremendous moment in the sport. How low will he take his time between now and London, when he'll defend his Olympic gold? Time will tell. One thing, however, is certain: Cielo is on another level right now in the sprint ranks.
**Because London was just mentioned, let's look at someone who figures to play a major role for the United States women: Elizabeth Pelton. Much of the talk for the Paris Open was about Michael Phelps, and deservedly so. The man is the greatest swimmer/Olympian in history, so chatter is clearly going to surround his presence when he races.
But the finest performer from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club over in France was Pelton, the 16-year-old rising star. Not only did Pelton capture the 200 backstroke title on the first day of the meet with a clocking of 2:08.29, she broke the one-minute barrier on Sunday when she won the 100 backstroke in 59.99.
Pelton has had a strong tuneup season under coach Bob Bowman, but her best performances appear to be ahead. Pelton has been known to have the stamina in the 200 back, and her ability to go sub-1:00 in the 100 distance is a tremendous sign that she possesses quality speed as well. Seeing what she can do for her 200 individual medley will be very intriguing.
The American ladies have trailed Australia in recent years and a return to the top needs to be buoyed by a young contingent. With the likes of Pelton, Dagny Knutson and Missy Franklin out there, the youth movement looks to be in place.
**All right, here's one thought outside of the Paris Open. Last week, Swimming World presented a poll question that asked readers to weigh in on the winner of the 100 backstroke at U.S. Nationals. One man's opinion says that until proven otherwise, Aaron Peirsol must be the selection. His enduring accomplishments deserve the nod.
**The French sprinters will not race against the United States this year, with France focused on the European Championships and the United States targeting the Pan Pacific Championships. But when they meet again at next year's World Championships, it will be interesting to see who is sent to the blocks for each country.
We'll talk about the United States at another time and focus on France for now. The French have even more options than before with the emergence of Yannick Agnel, the 17-year-old phenom who had a strong showing in the 100 free and beat Phelps in the 200 free at the Paris Open. Meanwhile, Fred Bousquet is still there and Fabien Gilot had a strong weekend with a win in the 100 free. Gregory Mallet had some decent swims and while Alain Bernard did not final in his events, he figures to be in form when it counts at the European Champs. If Amaury Leveaux can get it together, the French will have an arsenal.