By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 28. WHAT was going on those first two days, nothing more than sub-par action? Just kidding. But, in light of the 10 world records that have been set over the past three nights, the first 48 hours of the competition have been largely forgotten. Here's the fourth installment of the World Championships Notebook, a daily look at what's been unfolding in Melbourne.
**Better now than 16 months ahead at the Beijing Olympics. That's the best way to describe the circumstances that surrounded Brendan Hansen late Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. Starting to feel ill on the bus ride back to the Team USA hotel, Hansen spent the majority of the night with team physician Ken Haller and had to be hooked up to an IV.
Consequently, Hansen was forced to withdrawal from his pet event, the 200 breaststroke. When the last of the preliminary heats was announced, Lane Four was vacant. The defending champion and world-record holder, Hansen woke in the morning and swam a pair of laps at the hotel pool, one in freestyle and one in breaststroke. When he got out of the water, he was overcome by cramps and doubled over.
"He was feverish and feeling lousy on the way to the hotel, so we knew he came down with a virus," said Mark Schubert, the National Team Head Coach. "We put him in a room by himself and gave him an IV. He had a rough night with intestinal problems. We hope he'll be ready for the last evening."
While watching the opportunity to defend a world championship drift away due to uncontrollable circumstances is a difficult pill to swallow, at least the events unfolded here and not in Beijing. Hansen has spent the past three years redefining the breaststroke and certainly will be the favorite to win gold in China. So, if this is a pothole on the way to his second Olympiad, it's easier to digest than if disaster struck during the biggest sporting event in the world.
There's a strong possibility that Hansen's virus is of the 24-hour variety, though that determination will not be verified until we see the 25-year-old resurface for the medley relay. If Hansen's ailment is, indeed, a one-day struggle, expect the standout to deliver a spectacular breaststroke leg in relay duty. Hansen, of course, has always answered adversity.
Although he missed the opportunity to race the 200 breaststroke here, Hansen will have a chance to contest the event before returning to American soil. He'll be entered in the discipline at the Duel in Pool, to be held in Sydney following the World Champs. There, Hansen will have a chance to challenge his world record of 2:08.50, set last summer at the Pan Pacific Championships."
**Rumors that Grant Hackett would pull out of the 1500 freestyle, where he's the four-time defending champion, were put to rest by Alan Thompson, the Australian National Team Coach. At a press conference, Thompson acknowledged that Hackett would continue forth with the metric mile, though he wasn't confident the distance ace would prevail.
Aside from suffering from should ailments that required surgical attention, Hackett has not been as mentally acute as he has in the past. Engaged to an Australian musical star, Hackett recently decided to make a move from his longtime coach, Denis Cotterell, to Ian Pope. The decision has allowed Hackett more flexibility in his personal life.
Obviously, though, Hackett has paid the price for easing off the pedal. While he won bronze in the 400 freestyle earlier this week, the effort was far from his peak performance. More, he managed only seventh in the 800 freestyle, an event in which he holds the world record. And, barring a major rally, he'll find it difficult to medal in the 1500. Consider Larsen Jensen (USA), Tae Hwan Park (Korea) and David Davies (Great Britain) as the podium favorites, with Aussie Craig Stevens also in the mix.
Despite his troubles, don't expect Hackett to disappear from the international scene. Rather, after attending to his personal affairs, look for the Australian captain to recharge the battery and produce a quality assault in Beijing. Should he qualify, Hackett will chase a third consecutive Olympic crown in the 1500 free.
**The much-anticipated duel between the United States' Cullen Jones and South Africa's Roland Schoeman in the 50 freestyle will rekindle tomorrow morning with the heats of the splash-and-dash. Both athletes have their eyes on the world record of 21.64, held by Russia's Alexander Popov since a time trial in clean water in 2000.
Schoeman is the defending champion and the second-fastest man in history, thanks to the 21.69 that propelled him to victory in Montreal two years ago. In Melbourne, he's already pocketed gold in the 50 butterfly, but was seventh in the 100 free. As for Jones, he's been idle since helping the United States to gold in the 400 free relay on the first night of the meet. Last summer, Jones became the sixth-fastest man in history when he went 21.84 for gold at the Pan Pacific Championships.
**Under the direction of Pierre Lafontaine, the National Team Coach, Canada has enjoyed a solid showing in Melbourne. Lafontaine has fueled a concerted effort to raise the Canadian bar while emphasizing the importance of building a cohesive system from the youth level through to the National Team. Lafontaine left his post as the head of the Australian Institute of Sport to resurrect the sport in his homeland.
The Canadians had their finest night of the competition this evening as Brent Hayden shared gold in the 100 freestyle with Italian Filippo Magnini. Meanwhile, Erica Morningstar qualified fourth for the final of the women's 100 free and Brian Johns placed fifth in the 200 individual medley. For good measure, Audrey Lacroix was fifth in the 200 butterfly and Mike Brown qualified sixth for the final of the 200 breaststroke.
**Sure, Leisel Jones might be the most dominant breaststroker in the world, currently untouchable over the 100 and 200 distances. But, the United States can make the argument for having the most impressive stable in the event. Enter Tara Kirk, Megan Jendrick and Jessica Hardy. Tonight, Kirk and Jendrick each qualified for the final of the 200.
The only nation to have two swimmers with personal-best times under the 1:07 mark in the 100 breaststroke, there's a strong chance that number will increase to three at the Duel in the Pool. Jendrick looked sharp in the longer breaststroke race and a drop in distance to her prime event could produce fireworks. The 2000 Olympic champion, Jendrick owns a best of 1:07.05. For how long…well, it could be a couple of days.