By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, April 1. WELL, we've come to the end, and what a great week it was for the sport – with the exception of the doping allegations surrounding Ian Thorpe. The 12th edition of the World Championships produced 15 world records and eight days of sensational swimming. Here's the last installment of the World Champs Notebook.
**When Team USA returns home after the Duel in the Pool in Sydney, it will be able to look back proudly on the fact that it gave the rest of the world a lesson. Throughout the week, the U.S. athletes put on a show, an education of epic proportions. The final gold-medal count for the American squad was 20 out of 40 events.
Although his quest for eight gold medals was thwarted by a disqualification in the preliminary session of the 400 medley relay, Michael Phelps turned in one of the greatest exhibitions the sport has seen. Had he won eight gold medals, we could have argued for his performance as the No. 1 showing. But, there's always Beijing.
In 17 months, expect Phelps to make another run at the seven gold medals that Mark Spitz won at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Without question, Phelps proved that the feat is attainable in this age of a more-demanding schedule and a higher talent level on a worldwide basis. Heck, in addition to his Super Seven, he even posted the fastest time of the competition in the 100 freestyle, as the leadoff leg on the 400 freestyle relay. So, in one way, consider Phelps as having a Golden Octet.
**Of all the people in Melbourne tonight, there probably wasn't a more frustrated or disappointed individual than Ian Crocker. He was the swimmer who left early in the prelims of the 400 medley relay, forcing the disqualification of the United States and leading to the end of Phelps' chase for eight gold medals.
But, you know what, mistakes happen. Plain and simple. Sure, his takeoff should have been safer, but what happened is in the past now and there's no reason to dwell on it. Instead, it's worth looking at what Crocker has accomplished in the pool – greatness. For those who forget, he's the world-record holder in the 100 butterfly (50.40), thanks to a performance that is one of the finest in history, regardless of stroke. He's a four-time Olympic medalist. He's also won nine medals during his World Champs career.
And, more important, Crocker is a genuinely good person. He handles himself with dignity in the pool and is a well-spoken, polite individual in dealing with the media. The future for Crocker is certain to hold many more outstanding accomplishments, which will outweigh what happened this morning. Here's to Crocker bouncing back in the grandest fashion, very much a likelihood.
**How about that Ben Wildman-Tobriner? With much of the pre-event hype surrounding Cullen Jones, a rising American force, and South Africa's Roland Schoeman, the defending champ, Wildman-Tobriner was rarely mentioned as a gold-medal contender in the 50 freestyle. Now, though, he can call himself world champion.
Nailing his start and, well, the entire race, Wildman-Tobriner blitzed the field in the 50 free final to claim – at least for now – the title of fastest man in the pool. The Stanford standout, who broke the American record in the 50 free at the NCAA Championships, delivered a time of 21.88, making him the eighth-fastest man in history. With teammate Cullen Jones right behind for silver, the U.S. is looking good in the sprint ranks.
**The Duel in the Pool is scheduled for Tuesday at the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Center. While the United States is expected to wax the Australian squad, the dual-meet competition is worth watching, as there's a distinct possibility that a couple of more world records could be wiped out. The U.S. has won the past two meetings in convincing fashion.
**Looking ahead to Beijing, the 800 freestyle on the female side should be one of the best events. The 16-lap freestyle produced a two-woman show Saturday night, with American Kate Ziegler and France's Laure Manaudou swimming side-by-side the whole race. Eventually, Ziegler found an extra gear down the stretch and defended her world championship.
Manaudou was nothing short of superb this week, winning the 200 freestyle in world-record time, and also taking top honors in the 400 freestyle. For good measure, she was the silver medalist in the 100 backstroke and became the second woman to break one minute in the event. As for Ziegler, she confirmed her status as the top distance freestyler in the world, defending her 800 and 1500 crowns. Can't wait for next showdown between the ladies.