By John Lohn
ASTON, Pennsylvania, August 22. NOW that the Pan Pacific Championships have concluded, the countdown to next year’s World Championships in Melbourne will begin. So, it seems fitting to take a moment and dissect some of the storylines to emerge from British Columbia and what to look for when Australia plays host to the biggest meet leading into the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
**The ridiculous doubts as to whether Michael Phelps would return to the form he exhibited in 2003 were put to rest during the four-day meet in Canada. There, Phelps took down his world records in the 200 butterfly and 200 individual medley with times of 1:53.80 and 1:55.84, respectively. For good measure, he led off the United States’ world-record setting 400 freestyle relay.
Simply put, Phelps is the greatest swimmer in the world today, capable of doing things few can even imagine. Phelps also won the 400 I.M. at the Pan Pac Champs and is on the perfect track leading to Beijing. What he will swim in China remains to be seen, but the leadup to the Olympics is sure to be fascinating.
**For as great as Phelps is, an argument can be made that Aaron Peirsol and Brendan Hansen are the most dominating swimmers when it comes to a specific event. While Peirsol lowered his world record in the 200 backstroke to 1:54.44, Hansen delivered a clocking of 2:08.50 in the 200 breaststroke.
Historically, Peirsol’s backstroke time is .86 faster than the 1:55.30 that makes Phelps the second-fastest performer all-time. More, Peirsol owns the seven quickest swims ever produced. As for Hansen, his world record in the longer breaststroke is .92 faster than the 2:09.42 that ranks Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima as the second-fastest performer in history. Additionally, Hansen boasts the three-fastest swims ever produced.
**A round of applause goes out to Australia’s Jessicah Schipper for her world-record swim in the 200 butterfly. Schipper should have had the global mark at last year’s World Champs, but officials failed to cite Poland’s Otylia Jedrzejczak for an illegal one-hand touch at the finish, thus allowing her 2:05.61 to stand as the world record.
Schipper was timed in 2:05.65 in that race in Montreal, which would have been the world record. But, instead of moaning about the decision, Schipper went back to work and followed her training to a performance of 2:05.40. Look for the youngster to push the 2:05 barrier in her homeland during the next World Champs.
**After the U.S. quartet of Michael Phelps, Neil Walker, Cullen Jones and Jason Lezak swiped South Africa’s world record in the 400 free relay, Roland Schoeman decided to take a shot at the Stars and Stripes. Basically, Schoeman suggested that it was embarrassing that the U.S. took two years to better the record. More, Schoeman dropped a "Cullen who?" comment in reference to Jones. He later was defeated by Jones in the 50 free.
There’s no doubt that Schoeman is a great sprinter, and certainly among the leading contenders to better Alex Popov’s world record of 21.64 in the one-lap sprint. And, there’s something to be said for gamesmanship. But Schoeman came across as arrogant in his statements and nothing more than sour over the fact that his nation lost its world record, which was a highlight of the Athens Olympics.
A little tact would have been nice.
**The format used by the Pan Pacific Championships needs some tweaking. In its current format, each nation can send two athletes to the championship final and one swimmer to the consolation final. The idea is to get widespread national representation at night.
But, the problem with that format is that it penalizes the top-flight countries and leaves some deserving athletes swimming against lesser competition at night, or not at all. Look at Jessica Hardy. She finished third among U.S. 100 breaststrokers in the prelims and was sentenced to the consolation final. However, her time in that race would have won the championship heat by more than a second.
It’s time to eliminate the everyone-in-the-pool format for the night session.
**While it wasn’t one of the world-record breaking swims of the week, Brent Hayden’s victory in the 100 freestyle was just what Canadian swimming needed as it continues its resurgence under Pierre Lafontaine.