By Phillip Whitten
The Pan Pacific Championships, to be held August 22-29 at next year’s Olympic pool in Sydney, is the pre-eminent swimming competition in the world this year, surpassing the European Championships held last month in Istanbul, and the Pan American Games held earlier in August in Winnipeg.
Times have been fast all season and there are expectations for a superfast meet just a little more than a year before the 2000 Games. For the Americans, hopes are high for world records in several events–the 100 and 200 meter backstroke (Lenny Krayzelburg) and, perhaps, the 400 meter freestyle relay. No American male has set a world record since 1994, when Tom Dolan set the current world mark in the 400 IM.
This is the first article in a two-part series that previews the Pan Pacs. In this article we look at the men’s events.
The men’s meet shapes up as a two-way battle between the U.S.A. and Australia, with a few Japanese and South Africans expected to swim well. Seven world records are vulnerable, in what may become a veritable orgy of record-setting. Here are the events in which world records may fall:
Men’s 200 meter freestyle (1:46.67)
Three men have a shot at the world record in the 200 free, all of them Australian. On March 23, Grant Hackett, better known as a 400 and 1500-meter man, broke the oldest men’s swimming record when he carved two-hundredths of a second off Italian Giorgio Lamberti’s 1989 world mark, clocking 1:46.67. Several months earlier, his 15-year-old teammate, Wunderkind Ian Thorpe, known in Australia as “The Thorpedo,” had come within one-hundredth of a second of the old record with his 1:46.70. Most observers thought it would be Thorpe who would break Lamberti’s standard.
The third Aussie in the hunt is 1998 World Champion Michael Klim, who has been swimming very well of late. Any one of these three could break the WR–or all three of them could. I lean toward Thorpe. The U.S. will send up national champion Ugur Taner (1:49.19), Chad Carvin (1:48.78p) and Josh Davis (1:49.72). Taner feels he is ready to swim 1:47.
Men’s 400 meter freestyle (3:43.80)
Another battle between the 6’5″ Thorpe, now 16, with his size-16 feet, and his 19-year-old nemesis, Hackett, dubbed “Terminator 2″ Down Under. In head-to-head competition in the 400 over a 50-meter course, Thorpe, the 1998 world champion, has always emerged the winner. At last year’s Commonwealth Games, Thorpe clocked 3:43.85, just five-hundredths off Kieren Perkins’ formerly invincible world record from the 1994 World Championships. Hackett’s 3:45.59 made him the fourth fastest man in history.
However Hackett edged Thorpe in this event at the Short Course World Champs in Hong Kong in April, chopping five full seconds off the world mark. This shapes up as an epic battle between the two young Aussies, both of them capable of lowering the world mark.
The U.S. will put up Carvin (3:49.68) and the enigmatic Eric Vendt, who had a spectacular summer last year but hasn’t swum fast since. South Africa’s Ryk Neethling also expects to go under 3:50 and could be a factor in the race if he can get out fast enough.
Men’s 1500 meter freestyle
This event belongs to the 6’6” Hackett, whose 14:48.63 from the Australian Championships in March makes him the second fastest man in history, behind Kieren Perkins’ WR of 14:41.66 set five years ago. Perkins, on the comeback trail, will be in the race and says he fully expects to win, but most observers believe the younger Hackett is the man to beat. South Africa’s Neethling, who has a best of 15:02, appears ready to dip under 15 minutes. He has predicted a 14:50 or faster.
Men’s 100 meter backstroke
Jeff Rouse’s world record, set leading off the medley relay in Barcelona in 1992, stands at 53.86. Lenny Krayzelburg swam 54.00 last week, unshaved and untapered, making him #3 on the all-time list. Though Lenny is better at the 200, it appears he should get the 100 record too. The battle for second should be close, pitting Japan’s Keitano Konnai (55.32) against the USA’s Bobby Brewer (55.61) or comebacking Neil Walker (55.63). Three Aussies have swum 55-high this season.
Men’s 200 meter backstroke
In 1991, Spain’s Martin Lopez-Zubero set the wold record at 1:56.57, and there it’s remained ever since. Last week, swimming unshaved and unrested, Lenny Krayzelburg came within a whisper of beating it, clocking 1:56.68. The Spaniard’s record is ready to fall, with Krayzelburg swimming as fast as 1:55. The #2 American, 1996 Olympic champion Brad Bridgewater, has been erratic this summer, but should swim under 1:59. Konnai and three Aussies have all swum between 2:00.5 and 2:00.9 this year.
Men’s 100 meter butterfly
Michael Klim says he is fit and ready to challenge his own world record of 52.15 set in 1997. At a meet in Brisbane three weeks ago, he swam 52.81 unshaved and untapered, the world’s second fastest time this year. Australia also has two other sub-53 second flyers: Geoff Huegill and Scott Miller, the newly-married “bad boy” of Australian swimming. Bryan Jones gave US hopes a lift in this event last week, when he clocked 52.90. Neil Walker, the American record holder (52.76) may also swim the event, though he passed it up at Nationals last week. Japan’s Takashi Yamamoto (53.12) may be a spoiler, though he’s better at 200 meters, while Canada’s improving Shamek Pietucha (53.40) may also be in the hunt.
Men’s 400 meter freestyle relay
The current world mark (3:15.11) was set by the 1995 US Pan Pac team. This team–either with or without Gary Hall, who was a member of the record-setting ’95 squad–has a shot at the record. Hall, however, has told Swimming World he will not swim in any relay finals. Without Hall, the US has Jason Lezak (49.34), Bryan Jones (48.68r), Neil Walker (48.68r) and Scott Tucker (49.69).
Men’s 800 meter freestyle relay
Along with Lenny K. in the 200 back, this is as close to a sure thing as there is in swimming. Last fall, Australia set the world mark at 7:11.86–and that was without world record-holder Grant Hackett. No one on that relay split better than 1:47.4. Look for the Aussies to break 7:10.
Here’s a rundown of the remaining events.
Men’s 50 meter freestyle
The meet was denied a match-up between Gary Hall and the world’s top-ranked swimmer this year, South Africa’s Roland Schoeman (22.04), when the South African federation refused to pay his way to his national championships. Even without the 19-year-old Springbok, the field is very fast. Top bets: Hall, the Olympic silver medalist, who swam 22.13, coming off illness, suspension and fines, and wearing a baggy suit; 1998 world champion Bill Pilczuk, second (22.35) to Hall at the US Nationals; Australia’s Klim, bronze medalist at the 98 World Champs; and South Africa’s Brendon Dedekind (22.22).
Men’s 100 meter freestyle
Klim, the 98 silver medalist at the World Championships, and Chris Fydler carry Australia’s hopes. America will go with fast-rising Jason Lezak (49.34) and Bryan Jones (49.43), Scott Tucker (49.69) or Neil Walker (49.80). Gary Hall, who is entered in this event, has told Swimming World he will not swim it.
Men’s 100 meter breaststroke
The world’s fastest man this year–the USA’s Ed Moses (1:00.99)–will not be swimming due to the selection criteria established for the US team; same too for USA’s Jarrod Marrs (1:01.80). So the race shapes up as a battle among China’s Quiliang Zeng (1:01.89), Canada’s Morgan Knabe (1:02.11), Australia’s Simon Cowley (1:02.14), Japan’s Akira Hayashi (1:02.19) and perhaps Michael Norment (1:01.85 last year) or Perth bronze medalist Kurt Grote.
Men’s 200 meter breaststroke
Again, Moses has the fastest US time this year (2:13.41) but he’ll be at home when the gun goes off. Six swimmers have gone under 2:15 this year or last. Australia’s Ryan Mitchell leads the pack with a ’99 best of 2:13.75, with Cowley at 2:14.39. The US duo of Tom Wilkens and Kurt Grote, ranked one-two in the world last year, is looking to get down to 2:11 or 2:12 territory with a rest and shave. Knabe won Pan Ams with 2:14.73 and Norment was 2:14-high last year. Hayashi has gone 2:13 in the past and should not be counted out.
Men’s 200 meter butterfly
The edge here goes to Japan’s Takashi Yamamoto, whose 1:57.09 ranks second globally this year. The American pair of Ugur Taner (1:58.82) and Olympic silver medalist Tom Malchow (1:59.08) are both swimming well and looking to go under 1:57. Australia has a pair of 1:58 flyers–Bill Kirby and Scott Goodman–who should also contribute to an exciting race.
Men’s 200 meter individual medley
This is a race that’s up for grabs. America’s Wilkins is top seed at 2:02.03, and that was done unshaved and untapered. Ron Karnaugh, 33, was the bronze medalist at the 98 World Championships (2:01.89) and is looking for a drop. Canada’s Curtis Myden should go faster than the 2:02.38 he swam to win Pan Ams. The Aussies have two 2:02-2:03 swimmers: Matt Dunn, recovering from an injury, and Robert Van der Zant. Canada’s Owen Von Richter is in the picture at 2:02.91, while South Africa’s team of Theo Verster (2:03.52) and Terence Parkin (2:03.77), who is deaf, should make this an exciting race.
Men’s 400 meter individual medley
With world record-holder Tom Dolan sidelined after a knee operation, this event should belong to Canada’s Myden, who set a Commonwealth record in winning the race at Pan Pams (4:15.52). But Tom Wilkens is as tough as they come, and he will be in the thick of it; he says he’s ready to go 4:15, 4:14 or whatever it takes to win. Dunn (4:18.24), Von Richter (4;19.62) and perhaps Vendt (4:18 in prelims last year) may also be in contention.
Men’s 400 meter medley relay
Last year the Aussies upset the Yanks in this event at the World Champs. It will be close again this year, but the US has the edge, even without Moses. Krayzelburg should give the Stars and Stripes an insurmountable lead, but never count out the home team from the land of Oz.