Volker Posts World-Leading Times in 50 and 100 Free

BRAUNSCHWEIG, GERMANY, May 19. DON'T tell anybody — especially NOT that "little Dutch girl" who romped to three golds and set three world records at last September's Olympics — but there's a not-so-new kid on the block ready and willing to take away her mantle.

For those who thought that Holland's Inge deBruijn, winner of the 50-100 frees and 100 fly, all in world record-setting times at Sydney, was going to have another walk in the park at this summer's World Championships in Fukuoka, Fraulein Sandra Volker begs to differ.

VOLKER STARS AT GERMAN NATIONALS
The 27-year-old veteran German star, holder of the world record in the 50 back (28.25 from last year's German Olympic Trials), has won four events so far in this week's German Nationals (50 M)-World Championship Trials at Braunschweig, set a national record in the 50 free (24.72) and swam a world-leading 28.52 in the 50 back and 54.53 in the100 free too.

Volker dropped her pr-NR in the half-century from 25.09 at last year's Trials to a fast 24.72 here (third on the all-time European list), then sped 54.53 in the 100 free — dropping her old pr of 54.88 done at the Atlanta Olympics. That time ranks her No. 2 behind teammate Antje Buschulte's 54.39 NR from the German Olympic Trials last June.

In the 100 back, where Volker's pr is 1:01.39 that won the gold at the European Championships in Istanbul two years ago, she went a solid 1:01.51 — fourth globally for 2001. Her 50 back clocking is not only No. 1 globally but also third-performance all-time — trailing only her wr 28.25 from the heats and 28.29 from the finals of the Trials.

With her four wins, Volker now has 39 national titles in her career and appears to be improving as she ages towards that "Big 30" mark.

Admittedly, "Inky" and her 24.13, 53.77 50-100 free global standards are decidely superior to anything Fraulein Volker has ever done or come close to doing. However, if the German "wundermadchen" keeps up this rate of improvement she could be a definite medal contender this summer.

Volker swims for SG Hamburg and has always been a talented backstroker-sprinter. But 24.7-54.5 takes her into uncharted territory and it will be interesting to see how she fares against the toughest competition in the world at Japan. She didn't medal at Sydney and, in fact, has never medaled at an Olympics or World Championships.

Aside from the fact that her times are world-leading for '01, how good are Volker's swims? 24.72 ranks her third all-time among Euro performers with Sweden's Therese Alshammar's 24.44 silver medal-winning performance at Sydney No. 2. In the 100, 54.53 ranks her fourth among continental performers but Buschulte was not among the Top 2 finishers in the 100 so she likely will not swim it in Japan.

Alshammar and deBruijn have yet to make their long course debut this year and the jury's still out on whether either and/or both can duplicate their magical success from last season. As has been noted before, the World Championship schedule seems tailor-made for deBruijn to duplicate her Sydney performance but don't mortgage the house — yet.

Aside from Volker's outstanding swims, the biggest news from Braunschweig has been the stellar performance of 18-year-old Annika Melhorn. She won the 400 IM in a world-leading 4:41.11; raced to a pr-NR 2:13.86 today to win the 200 IM (No. 2 globally behind China's Qi Hui's 2:13.71) and won the 200 fly in a pr-NR 2:09.14 — second-fastest for '01 behind Australia's Petria Thomas' 2:07.32 from the Aussie Trials eight weeks ago.

Melhorn ranked 23rd globally last year in the 200 IM (2:16.23, down from her 2:16.28 in '99); was 83rd (!!!) in the 400 IM (4:54.61, but she had been 4:50+ in '99); and was 46th in the 200 fly (pr 2:13.55, down from a 2:15.08 the year before).

University of Alabama star Anne Poleska, who won the Southeast Conference Championship 200 breast title a couple of months ago and was runner-up at NCAAs, was second here in 2:31.00 to teammate Simone Wailer's 2:30.39. Poleska's pr-NR is a 2:27.76 that won her a spot on the plane to Sydney at last year's Trials.

In the distances, 20-year-old Hannah Stockbauer — who ranked sixth last season in the 800 free (pr 8:29.84)
– swam a world-leading and NR 16:21.84 1500 free.

On the men's side, the results were more modest but showed promise. In the 50 free it was 26-year-old sprinter Torsten Spanneberg first (22.78) followed by Carsten Dehmlow (22.92). The 100 was won by Mitja Zastrow (50.20) with Spanneberg next (50.46). In the double-century Stefan Herbst was No. 1 (1:49.55) and in the 800-mile it was distance specialist Heiko Hell (8:02.67-15:22.98).

The 100 back was won in something of an upset by 20-year-old Steffen Driesen in a pr 55.13 over dorsal specialist Stev Theloke (55.32). The winning time ranks Driesen sixth globally. In the 200 Driesen was again atop the victory podium (pr 2:01.11) with Theloke trailing (2:01.95).

Jens Kruppa, still competitive at 27, won the 100 breast (1:03.03) with up-and-comer Michael Fischer (1:03.27) second. Kruppa's pr is a 1:01.79 from the USA Dual meet at the 1998 Goodwill Games in East Meadow, New York. The German record is 1:01.33 by Mark Warnecke from the Atlanta Olympics. Now 31, Warnecke was fourth here (1:03.42) and won the 50 breast today (28.38) with Dirk Nowakowski (28.53) next.

The flys were dominated by 100 NR-holder Thomas Rupprath, who went 52.60 (fifth globally) and the 200 in (1:56.96, fourth in the world). His national 100 standard is 52.58 from the '00 Olympic Trials and his pr in the 200 is 1:56.82 from the ssme meet. The 24-year-old flyer ranked sixth and eighth, respectively, last year — his highest placings ever.

The other men's event so far contested was the 400 IM, won by 30-year-old Jirka Letzin in 4:22.76. His pr is 4:18.63 from the Sydney prelims, ranking him 25th globally for the year.

BALTIC CHAMPIONSHIPS
At the recently concluded Baltic States Championships in Tallinn, Estonia May 15-16, 20-year-old Estonian Jana Kolukanova lowered her pr-NR in the 50 free from 25.87 at the Olympics to 25.74. In the 100 she was second to countrywoman Elina Partoka (57.38-57.85). The latter also won the 200 (2:08.94).

The backstrokes were dominated by 16-year-old Estonian Berit Aljand (1:07.92-2:24.42) and teammate Natalia Hissamutdinova (18) swept the breaststroke races, winning the 50 (no time available), the 100 (1:12.84) and the 200 (2:38.97). Ave Merisala (EST) won the 50 fly (30.16) and countrywoman Nino Metsar won the 100-200 flys (1:05.06-2:29.69). Her time for the former is an Estonian national youth record.

Latvia got on the board via wins in both IMs, Agnese Carolina winning both (2:25.47-5:11.55).

On the men's side Lithuania's Rolandas Gimbutis dominated the sprints, winning both in 23.72-51.66. In the 200 teammate Romans Miloslavskis was first in a pr-NR 1:53.49, but in the 400 he was runner-up to Lithuania's Saulius Binevilius (4:06.34-4:15.54).

Former Lithuanian world 50 back record-holder Darius Grigalionis won his specialties (57.69-2:10.67); Estonia's Raiko Pachel did likewise in the 50-100 breast (29.41-1:04.97) and Latvia's Valerijs Kalmikovs — a former University of Nebraska "All-America" for Coach Cal Bentz and an Atlanta-Sydney Olympian — won the 200 breast (2:23.67). The 28-year-old former Cornhusker has a pr-NR of 2:16.21 from the Sydney prelims.

The flys were divided between Latvia's Arturs Jakovlevs (26.46 to win the 50) and Lithuania's Gytis Balilionis (100, 58.47; 200, 2:14.09).

In the IMs it was Lithuania's Paulius Andrijauskas winning both (2:10.11-4:38.82).

- Bill Bell
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