By John Lohn
CRANBURY, New Jersey, April 25. WELL, it’s been three weeks since the World Championships in Melbourne concluded and it’s still difficult to comprehend – without head-shaking – what Michael Phelps accomplished at Rod Laver Arena. But, in between the lingering amazement, there was enough time to compile some random thoughts on the sport.
**When the Eric Namesnik Memorial Grand Prix is held next month, the competition will adopt the format that the 2008 Olympics in Beijing will use: Morning finals. The decision to go with morning finals is an extremely intelligent move, for it will start the acclimation process more than a year out from the events in China.
There’s still complaining about the International Olympic Committee’s decision to move the championship finals and semifinals to the morning, in order to suit the needs of NBC Television. And, there’s no faulting the athletes for their discontent, especially the foreign contingent. But, nothing is going to change, so it’s about time to embrace what is fact, exactly what will happen in Ann Arbor next month.
**First, Grant Hackett decided to leave his longtime coach, Denis Cotterell, to be closer to his bride. Now, Leisel Jones has opted to part ways with Stephan Widmer, the man who has molded Jones into the premier breaststroker in the world. Like Hackett, Jones’ decision hinged on love, as she will now be closer to her Aussie Rules-football star boyfriend.
Recently married, Hackett did not enjoy a successful World Championships – at least by his standards. He managed only a bronze medal in the 400 freestyle, proof that he hadn’t put in the necessary work to compete at the level at which he’s accustomed. Rather than focus his attention solely on the World Champs, Hackett dedicated much of his time to his personal life, including wedding planning.
Whether Jones experiences a falloff due to greater attention to her personal life remains to be seen. Perhaps, she’ll find a perfect balance and training under Rohan Taylor will produce quality results. Let’s just hope that leaving Widmer will not lead to a deterioration in skill. Jones, as her times have proved, is too special of a talent to not continue to change the landscape of the breaststroke. Remember, she’s knocking on the door to a 1:04 clocking in the 100 distance.
**There’s been a lot of speculation recently as to whether Libby Lenton’s 52.99 leadoff leg in the mixed 400 free relay during the Duel in the Pool will be ratified by FINA as the world record for the 100 free, bettering the 53.30 of Germany’s Britta Steffen. One of the main concerns is whether Lenton benefited from swimming next to Michael Phelps and used him as a pace-setter.
My take: The record is good to go and should be added to the books. The fact of the matter is that Lenton covered two laps of freestyle faster than any woman in history and should be credited for that achievement. While Phelps may have served as a pacer, Lenton also had to deal with working through Phelps’ wake. Call it a wash and give her the record.
**Finally, we’ll end with Mr. Phelps because he deserves another mention. Officially, he walked away from Melbourne with seven gold medals, and missed out on an eighth only because the U.S. was disqualified in the prelims of the 400 medley relay. Then again, an argument can be made that Phelps did win eight gold medals. Remember, his leadoff leg on the American 400 free relay (48.42) was faster than the 48.43 posted by Italy’s Filippo Magnini and Canada’s Brent Hayden. Works as an eighth gold for me – just without the official hardware.