By John Lohn
ASTON, Pennsylvania, August 19. SOON, the summer will leave us. We’ll turn our attention to the collegiate season and the race for NCAA supremacy. More, we’ll anticipate the return of Ian Thorpe to the competition scene and will begin looking at the events of 2006, including the Pan-Pacific Championships. First, though, let’s dole out a handful of awards for the summer.
Swim of the Summer: During the World Championships in Montreal in July, there was no shortage of spectacular swims. Yet, one effort stood above the rest and can be described in only one way: Breathtaking. Of course, we’re talking about the men’s 800-meter freestyle, where Grant Hackett erased Ian Thorpe’s world record in the event.
From the start, it was obvious that Hackett was chasing the global standard. The Aussie distance legend pushed the pace at a ridiculous rate, splitting 3:47.17 at the 400-meter mark. En route to his world-record time of 7:38.65, Hackett erased the 7:39.16 that Thorpe posted at the 2001 World Championships in Japan. At one point, Hackett was five-plus seconds under Thorpe’s pace and his margin of victory over Larsen Jensen, who won silver in American-record time (7:45.63), was nearly seven seconds.
Weakest Event: The current state of the women’s 200 freestyle is not pretty. In claiming World Champs gold, France’s Solenne Figues was clocked in 1:58.60, hardly an impressive performance, and only one of two efforts under 1:59. Italy’s Federica Pellegrini earned silver in 1:58.73. The bronze medal, shared by China’s Yang Yu and Sweden’s Josefin Lillhage, was secured in 1:59.08.
The only positive for the event is the fact that Australia’s Lisbeth Lenton clocked 1:57.06 on the leadoff leg of the 800 free relay. Already an established force in the sprint-freestyle events, Lenton could be a savior in the four-lap free, as could American Natalie Coughlin. Unquestionably, the event is in need of some serious help.
Breakthrough Performer: This selection was easy: Leisel Jones. After coming up short in her quest for gold in Olympic (2000/2004) and World Championships (2001/2003) action, the Aussie broke through in Montreal by winning the 100 and 200 breaststroke events. Previously, Jones was viewed as the athlete who couldn’t deliver on the big stage.
During the 100 breast final, Jones upended American Jessica Hardy in the final, with the Aussie winning in 1:06.25. A night earlier, in semifinal action, Hardy set the world record at 1:06.20. Jones capped her meet with a world-record swim in the 200 distance, as her 2:21.72 obliterated the previous standard of 2:22.44, set last summer by Amanda Beard.
Quiet Noise: Unlike the remainder of the world, Simon Burnett didn’t use the World Championships as his summer platform. Instead, Burnett used the Commonwealth Games Trials to demonstrate his growing talent on the freestyle scene. An Olympic Finalist in the 200 free in Athens, Burnett has taken his skills to another level.
A standout at the University of Arizona, Burnett cracked a trio of British records at the Commonwealth Games Trials, turning the trick in the 50, 100 and 200 free events. After producing a stellar swim of 1:46.59 in the 200 free, Burnett checked in with clockings of 22.12 in the 50 free and 48.68 in the 100 free.
Breakout Performer: Part of an Australian contingent that rates as phenomenal, Jessicah Schipper left the World Championships as the future of the butterfly. The teenager opened her competition with a gold-medal effort in the 100 fly (57.23) and also captured silver in the 200 fly. Over the longer distance, Schipper went 2:05.65, under the world record. One problem: Poland’s Otylia Jedrzejczak was a little quicker, going 2:05.61.