By John Lohn
ASTON, Pennsylvania, June 28. PASSING along some thoughts concerning the Swimming World.
**Better than ever? Is that really possible? If Michael Phelps walked away from the sport today, an argument could be made proclaiming him as the greatest swimmer in history. Such is the power of his eight-medal haul from the Athens Olympics and his mind-boggling versatility. Phelps, though, isn’t going anywhere and just might be moving into another stratosphere.
Last weekend, while racing at the Santa Clara International Swim Meet, Phelps posted world-class times while in the middle of training. He left the competition with six victories, including three on the final day of action. For the record, he collected titles in the 200 and 400 individual medley events, the 100 and 200 backstrokes, the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle.
Okay, winning multiple events is nothing new for Phelps, but the fact that he won with impressive mid-training times suggests that he’s returned to his Olympic form, perhaps better. While handling various commitments last year, Phelps slipped from his 2003 and 2004 status of untouchable. Now, though, he’s storming toward a sensational summer.
Over the past few months, there has been some discussion that Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh was closing the gap on Phelps in the medley events and could be capable of surpassing Mighty Mike. Guess what? It won’t happen. Sure, Cseh is a special talent, but Phelps is one-of-a-kind athlete, motivated by challenges. Don’t be surprised if, either at Nationals or Pan Pacs, Phelps goes off and breaks each of his medley world records.
**During last week’s German Championships, Helge Meeuw didn’t just shoot to the forefront of European Swimming, he attracted the global spotlight. Competing in Berlin, Meeuw won titles in the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke events and the 100 and 200 butterfly disciplines. More impressive, he set European records in the 100 and 200 backstrokes.
With a mark of 53.46 in the 100 back, Meeuw became the second-fastest man in the history of the event, trailing only American Aaron Peirsol. Could Meeuw emerge as an international threat to the premier backstroker in the world? We’ll find out soon. Meeuw will have the chance to solidify his standing in late July, when the European Championships commence. Here’s to an encore performance from the German which would certainly heighten expectations for next year’s World Championships in Melbourne.
**While racing is expected to be spectacular across the board at Summer Nationals, one of the events that has suddenly become an eye-catcher is the women’s 400 freestyle. The field for that race will be headlined by Kate Ziegler, Katie Hoff and Hayley Peirsol.
Peirsol had a dynamite showing at Santa Clara, defeating Ziegler in the 400 and 800 freestyles, with the longer victory arriving in a stellar time of 8:26.87. Look for the two to battle again in Irvine with a sub-8:20 effort as a possibility.
**He was beaten down by training, work that he has called the most tiring of his career. Yet, Brendan Hansen found a way to uncork a stellar swim of 2:12.90 en route to a Santa Clara triumph in the 200 breaststroke. What does it mean? That the world-record holder in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes is sniffing 2:08 in August.
**Won by Davis Tarwater in a time of 1:58.68, the 200 butterfly at Santa Clara included another noteworthy performance by an American. Finishing third, Alex Vanderkaay clocked in at 2:00.81. Look for the younger brother of Peter Vanderkaay to continue to improve under Bob Bowman, who is spinning magic in Michigan.
**Finally, let’s talk about Natalie Coughlin. The five-time Olympic medalist, like Phelps, is poised to package the finest season of what is already a brilliant career. In Santa Clara, Coughlin won the 50 and 100 freestyles and the 100 fly and 100 backstroke with dazzling times. Before the Aussie women get too comfortable owning the 100 free, they might want to keep an eye on Ms. Coughlin.