INDIANAPOLIS, IN, October 8. OUS Mellouli of Tunisia took advantage of what life presented today. Champions do that. He is the first World Champion in the newly christened Frank McKinney pool in Conseco Arena in the FINA Short Course World Championships in Indianapolis.
The evening opened with dedication of the temporary pool in the arena to the late Frank McKinney, a 1956 and 1960 Olympian from the host city, who went on as a community leader to be a long-time important supporter of swimming in the area. McKinney’s family was on hand to accept the honor on his behalf.
Mellouli found himself in a field that opened immensely with the morning scratch by Olympic champion Michael Phelps due to a back injury. Ous came into the meet seeded first but was only 6th after morning qualifying. But while Phelps’ scratch opened the door for everyone, it was Mellouli who charged through.
He was effective from the very beginning in the final. He was second after butterfly by .19 (:56.58). He put his stamp on the race in the backstroke (1:02.90=1:59.48) and was never in danger thereafter, adding 1:10.34 and :57.20 to win in 4:07.02.
Robin Francis of Great Britain was the closest challenger, using a 1:09.11 breaststroke leg to move from 6th to 2nd on that leg and even gained a bit on the freestyle (:57.10) but never cut the margin under a second, finishing at 4:08.06. Eric Shanteau of the USA used the same race pattern as Francis to pick up the bronze, moving from 7th to 3rd on the breaststroke (1:09.46) and maintaining that position to the final wall.
Mellouli won the first swimming world championship for Tunisia and only the second in any sport, having a judo winner in 2001. Obviously, his win is expected to be popular back home. When he won the bronze in the 400 IM at the Barcelona world championships last summer Mellouli was asked to go see the president of his country. Tonight, he said, “It was just great. Unfortunately, I have to go back to school; I am so far behind. But, I am pretty sure that if the president of Tunisia asks me to come see him, I will do it.”
Mellouli has trained over the last several years primarily with Mark Schubert at USC. He won the bronze in the 400 IM at last summer’s FINA long course championships and was 5th in Athens.
– D. Scott