By Craig Lord
MOSCOW, April 4. ON a night when Sweden's Emma Igelstrom took 50m breaststroke racing below 30 seconds for the first time among women to set the only global standard of the second day of finals at the World Short Course Championships here in Moscow, Australia drew level with the United States on gold medal tally to reinforce the rivalry of the world's best two swimming nations.
Igelstrom, 21, stormed home in 29.96 seconds to shave 0.28sec off the global standard she set just two weeks ago, extending the number of times the world record over 50m breaststroke has fallen over 50 metres in precisely four months to ten.
Second behind her was Luo Xuejuan, of China, at 30.17sec also within the previous world record, with Britain's Zoe Baker, nursing a nasty bite from a white-backed spider she suffered last week in New Zealand, third in 30.56sec, locking defending champion Sarah Poewe, of South Africa, out of the medals.
Luo had started the sequence of ten global standards, unique in swimming history, on December 4 in Shanghai, with the exact same time as Baker's last night, 30.56 seconds. Li Wei, also of China, equaled the standard
before Igelstrom and Baker broke the record three times each, the Swede taking it down from Baker's 30.31sec to 30.24sec just two weeks ago.
Baker, Luo and Igelstrom at the turn but the Swede and the Chinese emerged head and shoulders ahead out of the turn, Baker struggling with the pain of the bite on her leg and emerging fourth behind Poewe. The race for the title now between Igelstrom and Luo, Baker fought back to snatch the bronze medal from Poewe by 0.14sec.
Igelstrom said: "To break the record in that time is like magic. I felt strong throughout the race and just knew I was in excellent form." In contrast, and oddly for a woman who had just wiped another chunk off her
best time for the umpteenth time this season, Luo said she was "disappointed – I think I'm not in my best shape". Rivals shudder to imagine what that might be.
Igelstrom's was the only global mark to fall on Day Two, though there were some near misses and three championship records as Matt Welsh, Geoff Huegill and Australia's men's 4 by 200m relay helped lift the spirits of the Green and Gold shoal, while Tom Wilkens and Haley Cope ensured the dignity of the Stars and Stripes stayed intact.
Wilkens laid down the gauntlet in the 400m medley by racing within absent Australian Matthew Dunn's world record pace until the 350m mark. Awash in lactic acid, the American faded marginally off the pace on his way
home to the crown in 4:04.82, just 0.58 seconds outside Dunn's 1998 standard.
"I'm really glad at that result. I was so close to the world record but I'll break it next time," said Wilkens, who majored in Russian history so maybe felt quite at home here in Moscow, where he has paid visits to the Kremlin and Red Square. His was the first American record of the championships. Runner-up was much improved Canadian Brian Johns on 4:06.85.
Welsh, the long-course world champion, took his first world short-course title in the 100m backstroke, in 51.26sec, well up on America's teenage wizard Aaron Peirsol, on 51.71, with his teammate Peter Marshall third on 51.84. Someone was in the media stands watching their progress with particular interest – that someone being Lenny Krazelburg, who earlier in the day had helped to launch an impressive presentation for the 2004 championships, to be held in Indianapolis six weeks after the Olympic Games in Athens.
After Welsh, Cope struck back for the US, taking the 100m backstroke title in 59.07sec by some quirk of nature that is even now hard to fathom. Cope was a body length down on Ilona Hlavackova, of the Czech Republic, at the 50m mark, the splits 28.14sec to 28.82sec. It was not until 12 meters to go, when all seemed sealed for the Czech champion, that Cope emerged as if from nowhere to storm through the pack and snatch the crown. The look on her face suggested she was every bit as surprised as the women she had just stunned.
The men's 100m breaststroke was a relatively calm affair, the absence of Ed Moses and Roman Sloudnov telling as the title went to Oleg Lisogor, of Ukraine, in a championship record of 58.33 ahead of Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, in 59.10.
Similarly, without Thomas Rupprath and his ability to go 50.10, the 100m butterfly lacked special status, the crown going to Huegill in a fine 50.95, ahead of teammate Adam Pine, 51.41, with Igor Martchenko, of
Russia, third. Back in fifth was defending champion Lars Frolander, the Olympic champion, and Britain's James Hickman, on 51.61. That result ended Frolander's chance of becoming the first man to win four successive world short-course titles in the same event, an opportunity still open to Hickman in the 200m on Sunday.
The final individual title of the day was another close shave with the record book, Chen Hua, of China, clocking a championship record of 8:16.34 to win the 800m freestyle title for a third successive time but
shy of absent Sachiko Yamada's world record of 8:14.35. Behind Chen was Irina Oufimtseva, of Russia, on 8:21.91, with Swiss Flavia Rigamonti third in 8:23.38.
Australia's 4 x 200m freestyle quartet of Todd Pearson, Ray Hass, Leon Dunne and Grant Hackett, brought the argument to a close with an emphatic
7:00.36 victory, Hackett's 1:43.04 by far the fastest split of the day, 1.58sec faster than that of Klete Keller, the American who won the individual 200m on Day One.
In the semi-finals, defending champion Therese Alshammar, now training in Britain, qualified fastest for the 100m freestyle final in 53.56, just 0.10sec ahead of Martina Moravcova, of Slovakia.
Vered Borochovski, of Israel, was the surprise fastest qualifier for the 50m butterfly final, in 26.47sec, ahead of Sweden's Anna Karin Kammerling
and Alshammar. Borochovski also had the fatest prelim time (26.45).
Jose Meloans, of Argentina, was fastest through in the 50m freestyle on 21.47sec, 0.03sec up on Jason Lezak, of the US, with defending champion and world record holder Mark Foster, of Britain, third on 21.65sec a touch ahead of Russia's Alexander Popov.
Moravcova was the only swimmer to dip under 60sec in the 100m medley with American Gabrielle Rose second fastest through to the final in 1:00.61.