By Bill Bell
BOURGUIGNON, FRANCE, April 18. THERE'S a new name to be counted among the world's elite sprinters, and he's not an American, an Australian, a European or even a South American.
Rather he's an African, a continent more noted for its world-class distance runners rather than its swimmers, save for a few South Africans. But Algerian sprinter Salim Iles couldn't be more different than his
counterparts, as he's black — and fast — and getting faster.
Fresh off his World Championship bronze medal in the 100 free at Moscow a couple of weeks ago, Iles took his African record down to 49.00 in the finals of the French Championships/European Championship Trials here this evening.
The 27-year-old Iles trains and competes for France's prestigious Paris-based Racing Club de France, perhaps the country's msot distinguished club. He broke his own record of 49.30 that he set in the semis last night, which in turn broke his record of 49.40 from the finals of last summer's World Championships in Fukuoka.
Iles' time in Japan shredded the old African record of 49.44 that had stood the test of time for more than a quarter-century. Back in 1976, South African Jonty Skinner, barred from competing at the Montreal Olympics due to his country's then racial policies, swam in his own "Olympics" two weeks later at the U.S. AAU Championships in Philadelphia, and broke the world record with his 49.44.
That record had been a 49.99 by America's Jim Montgomery, which won him the century at the Olympics and made the former Indiana University sprint star the first man under the magic 50.0 barrier.
Skinner was on a mission at Philly and made the most of his opportunity. Interestingly, at that time FINA refused to recognize the record as South Africa was considered a pariah nation and thus barred from membership.
During the mid-'70s Skinner was a student at the University of Alabama, where he trained with Coach Don Gambril and represented the latter's North River Yacht Club at Philadelphia. Skinner later became an American citizen, served as the Crimson Tide's head coach and then became National Technical Director for United States Swimming.
Iles' time ranks him third globally behind America's Jason Lezak's 48.89 (his pr) from the U.S. Nationals last month in Minneapolis; and Australian 200-400-800 free world record-holder Ian Thorpe, who went a 48.98 at the Commonwealth Games Trials in Brisbane, also in late March.
Second in the 100 was 25-year-old Romain Barnier (49.70). His pr is 49.21 from this meet two years ago, adn that in turn is a mere .03 behind Stephan
Caron's NR 49.18 from a decade ago. Barnier swam for Coach David Marsh's Auburn team during the last decade and was a memvber of the team that won NCAAs five years ago.
Iles' 49.00 shows he has to be considered among the world's elite. It also sent a message that come next year's Worlds in Barcelona, Mr. Iles cannot be taken lightly.
Of course, there's still that guy up in Berkeley named Ervin, co-Olympic gold medalist in the 50 free who set American/NCAA records last month in the 50-100 frees (sc yards) — and was World Champ last summer in both too. He'll get a chance to show his stuff this summer at the U.S. Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, then in Yokohama at the Pan-Pac Championships — presumably
against the aforesaid Mr. Thorpe. Lezak too will be after a berth on the Pan-Pac team at Lauderdale, along with American 100-yard back record-holder Neil Walker, no mean 50-100 free man himself who's also an Olympian.
The timing of Lauderdale is such that results from the European Championships in Berlin plus the Commonwealth Games in Manchester may well be known on this side of the pond and any records set in those competitions will be ripe for breaking in Florida.
Iles is also after Arizona's NCAA 50 free champ Roland Schoeman's African record of 22.04 in the 50 free. A South African, Schoeman set that time at the U.S. Nationals in Minneapolis in the summer of 1999 and will be out to go a sub 22 at Manchester, along with England's erstwhile sprint champ Mark Foster and Australia's Brett Hawke, who's pr and national-record is 22.18.
Hawke was a teammate of Barnier's at Auburn in the mid-'90s and also was a member of the Tigers' '97 NCAA title-winning team.
Iles is out of luck in terms of having anything major to look forward to competing in this summer as he's not a European so he can't go to Berlin; Algeria's not a Commonwealth nation, so he won't be at Manchester; and it's also not a Pacific Rim country so he won't be going to Yokohama.
But in the summer of '03 he'll be at the World Championships and a year later he'll likely compete in the Short Course Worlds at Indianapolis (April) and the Olympics that summer in Athens, when he'll be 29 — now considered the prime years for male swimmers.
In one of two other men's finals Tuesday evening (the meet's first day), 19-year-old Pierre Roger lowered his pr in the 100 back from 56.10 to 55.50 — with an even quicker 55.25 in the semis. The French record is 55.10 from their Olympic Trials a decade ago so Mr. Roger is "knocking on the door."
Roger's time ranks him third gobally behind America's Aaron Peirsol's pr and world-leading 54.47 from Minneapolis, and Australia's Matt Welsh, Fukuoka
champ, who went 54.96 at Brisbane. The European record is 54.43 by Germany's Stev Theloke from the 1998 Goodwill Games in East Meadow, New York. Theloke is still active and with the ECs set for Berlin he likely has designs on taking his record down a notch or two.
On the women's side, France's 1998 200 back World Champion Roxanna Maracineanu won in 2:11.92 to qualify for Berlin. Her pr-NR is 2:10.25 from the Sydney finals, and she did a 2:11.26 to win at Perth four years ago.
In the women's 100 free tonight, visiting Belarus sprinter Elena Popchenko splashed to a national-record and world No. 2 ranking with a 54.95 second performance, to snatch the gold from the home country's Solenne Figues' 56.15. Popchenko's time surpasses her old pr-NR of 55.19 from the semis at Fukuoka, and is .01 behind Australia's Sarah Ryan's world-leading 54.94 from the Commonwealth Games Trials in Brisbane a few weeks ago.
In the women's 100 breast finals, Sophie LeParanthoen won in a pr 1:10.84. The French record is 1:10.15 by Pascaline Louvrier from the '87 Euros in Strasbourg.
The men's 200 IM went to 29-year-old Xavier Marchand (2:03.54) with 27-year-old Lionel Moreau a tick behind at 2:03.66. The winner holds the French record at 2:01.08 from the '97 ECs.
In the 200 butterfly semis, veteran Franck Esposito, 31, who trained briefly at Auburn last fall and swam a fine unshaved 1:42.22 200 yard fly during his stay, clocked 1:57.07.
His pr-NR for the 200 m fly is 1:55.03, done at Fukuoka in the semis. Esposito's swim ranks him tied for third (with America's Tom Malchow) on the all-time performers-performances list, and would be the world-record were it not for a certain 16-year-old American named Michael Phelps.
The latter won the gold in Japan with his pr/NR/wr and 15-16 NAG record of 1:54.58, which broke his old mark of 1:54.92 from the U.S. Nationals/World Championship Trials in Austin four months earlier.
In the finals, Esposito swam a 1:55.71 and finished fourth, .03 behind Russia's Anatoliy Poliakov's bronze medal-winning pr 1:55.68. Esposito has yet to win a medal at either an Olympics or World Championships, and Father Time is no longer on his side, despite his having set his pr-NR less than eight months ago.