Thoughts Heading Into World Championships

Guest editorial by David Rieder

PHOENIX, Arizona, July 1. SWIMMING World superfan David Rieder, who blogs on his site at, provided us with the following analysis of recent groundbreaking swims from throughout the world.

Steffen and the World of Women's Sprinting
Even though Britta Steffen was the Olympic gold medalist in both sprint events before this weekend, the 100 looked like all Australia's Libby Trickett, and the 50 a race between Trickett and The Netherlands' Marleen Veldhuis.

Not anymore. No longer is Trickett the world record holder in the 100 free. Steffen has Hydrofoiled (adidas) her way into contention once again.

While it was clear that she would be in the final, and would most likely medal, she clearly has an advantage over Trickett and others. All along, it has been Trickett, Steffen, and Veldhuis in the 100, while those three will race American Dara Torres, Australian Cate Campbell, and Sweden's Therese Alshammar in the 50.

While one can expect Trickett to be faster than 52.88, can she keep up with the buoyancy and endurance provided by Steffen's fast suit?

The British Women's 800 Free Relay
Much was expected out of the British women in this relay in Beijing. Gold was not out of the question. But, in the end, they made a tactical error and finished ninth in the prelims.

Now, many regard them as the favorite to take this year's title. They have Joanne Jackson (1:56.47), Rebecca Adlington (1:56.66 in 2008, 1:57.15 this year unrested), Caitlin McClatchey (1:56.97 2008, 1:57.58 2009), and Jazmin Carlin (1:58.34).

We will have to wait and see what the Americans manage at Nationals next week to consider them the favorites, but this could be a real boost for the British team with a home Olympics on the horizon.

Ous Mellouli: So many chances…
A longtime staple on the international scene, this Tunisian returned from an 18-month suspension from taking a stimulant with a vengeance. After winning the 1500 in Beijing, he went on the World Cup tour and then competed in several meets in the States, and his times were world class. The World Cup highlighted Mellouli's versatility. He swam and won races in the 200, 400, and 1500 free, as well as both IMs.

In a country without much domestic competition on his level, he is his continent's top swimmer in at least six World Championship events (also 800 free). At the Mediterranean Games, he once again proved his ascendance. He swam personal bests in all of his events: 200 free (1:46.44), 400 free (3:42.71), 1500 free (14:38.01), 200 IM (1:58.38), and 400 IM (4:10.53).

In the Olympics, he only made the 400 and 1500 free finals, but with these times, he would have made every top eight in Beijing. His 400 free time would have given him a bronze medal (he placed fifth). His 1500 time from today beat not only his Olympic winning time, but it was the second-fastest time in history, within four seconds of Grant Hackett's world record.

In Rome, he is the overwhelming favorite in the 1500, a medal certainty in the 800, and has a great chance to medal in the 400. A big challenge will be deciding which of the other events to swim. The 400 IM is out, as it is on the same day as the 1500. The 200 free and 200 IM both conflict in some way with the 800. I don't believe he was fully rested with these times, so he could really chase the big names in these events if he is in them.

Today's Universe of Men's Sprinting
It is the World of Female Sprinting, but the Universe of Men's. The 50 and 100 free are such deep events internationally that 17 men have already broken 22 in the 50, 8 have broken 48 in the 100, and 40 men have been under 49 in that event. And on top of that list is the nation of France.

Of the top 25 performances of the 50 and 100 free combined, a mind-boggling 31 out of 50 (as of June 30) are held by one of five Frenchmen (Alain Bernard, Fred Bousquet, Amaury Leveaux, William Meynard, and Fabien Gilot). With each passing moment, they look more and more ready to dominate the events in Rome.

At the Mediterranean Games, an unrested Bousquet clocked 21.17 in the 50, the second-fastest time in history, and 48.30 in the 100. Bernard took the 100 in 47.83, a time which, up until March 2008, would have been a world record.

Right now, the 50 looks to be a battle between Bousquet and his Auburn training partner Cesar Cielo, with both men under 21, while Bernard looks to have complete control of the 100. In the 100, there are probably 16 men who could, in some scenario, make the finals. And in a sprint, where a little something makes a lot of difference, expect even more swimmers to jump out onto the scene from nowhere.

59/2:08 Becoming Routine in Breaststroke
The sport of swimming has changed dramatically over the last year and a half with the new suit technology, and in no area has there been more change than men's breaststroke. At the end of 2007, only three men had been inside the 1:00 and 2:10 barriers each. The continued impact of the suits is still felt today, as none of the seven men under 1:00 in the 100 or 10 men under 2:10 in the 200 had broken the barriers before this year.

Now, Brendan Hansen, who was for several years so dominant, has slipped from second to fifth in the 200 this year. He has been surpassed by Ryo Tateishi, Marco Koch, and Henrique Barbosa. Names sound familiar? Not really. Any of them make the Olympic final? No. Semifinal? No. It's not even big news anymore when three guys from one country suddenly break 1:00 in the 100, let alone one.

When you look at the World rankings, you will see familiar names such as Brenton Rickard ranked 24th this year in the 100 and tied for 14th in the 200, with 2004 silver medalist Daniel Gyurta.

Then there are the four Japanese guys (Tateishi, Yuta Suenaga, Naoya Tomita, Kazuki Otsuka), none of whom is named Kitajima, under 2:10. All these swims are coming from nowhere, and each passing day makes it more and more clear that the suits cut serious time and help some more than others. This World Championship will be far more unpredictable than any other.

Thomas Rupprath?
This German swimmer has hung around for a long time. Over the years, he has made a name for himself as a sprint backstroke/butterflyer. The only long course world record he ever set was a 24.80 in the 50 back in 2003, when he won his first and only world title.

That record lasted as the "magical standard" in the event for five years, with no one touching the mark. All that changed in the spring of 2008, when Liam Tancock swam a 24.47. Soon after, Randall Bal swam 24.33, and since then, a total of nine men have swum under Rupprath's once-untouchable standard.

At this weekend's German Nationals, Rupprath himself broke the 24.80 mark. While Helge Meeuw claimed the German record, Rupprath went his best time for the first time in six years. He also finished just off his best in the 50 fly, in which he finished second and lost his German record.

After six years, he's suddenly back to his best? All due respect for a guy that's been in the sport for so long, but how can this just happen? Rupprath is not the only person in the swimming world who is suddenly back at their best times with the new suit technology, but he is a perfect example. In comparison to the past, times mean almost nothing anymore.

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