By John Lohn
MONTREAL, June 2. ONE of the most difficult tasks in sports is the defense of a championship. After the first title is collected, the target grows larger. The opposition grows hungrier. On occasion, the reigning king finds a way to retain the throne.
At this summer’s World Championships, however, many defending champs will be missing in action, having chosen to skip the event for a variety of reasons. Some have simply altered their schedules. Here’s a quick look at the defending titlists who will not seek repeats in Montreal.
Inge De Bruijn, Netherlands: The winner of the 50 freestyle and 50 butterfly at the 2003 World Champs, Inky will pass on Montreal as she contemplates her future in the sport.
Alena Popchanka, France: After winning the 200 freestyle for Belarus two years ago, Popchanka recently changed her citizenship to French and will become eligible for international competition under the French flag in November.
Hannah Stockbauer, Germany: At the last World Championships, Stockbauer pulled off a distance trifecta, claiming victory in the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyles. She’s currently taking some time away from the pool.
Amanda Beard, United States: Her profile at an all-time high after the Athens Olympics, Beard is devoting her time to professional endeavors outside of swimming. Therefore, she will not defend her 200 breaststroke crown.
Jenny Thompson, United States: The 100 butterfly champ in 2003, Thompson retired from swimming after the Athens Olympics, thus ending one of the greatest careers ever recorded by an American swimmer.
Alex Popov, Russia: The greatest sprinter in history, Popov won the 50 and 100 freestyle events in Barcelona, but has since retired from a sport he dominated for a decade.
Ian Thorpe, Australia: Looking to recharge the battery so he can be in top form for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Thorpe long ago announced that he would not swim in Montreal. As a result, a new champion will be crowned in the 200 and 400 freestyles.
Kosuke Kitajima, Japan: The winner of the 100 and 200 breast events two years ago, Kitajima will only defend his title in the 100 distance, as he failed to qualify for the longer distance at the Japanese Trials.
Michael Phelps, United States: Looking to broaden his program, Phelps will swim the 100, 200 and 400 freestyles, along with the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly in Montreal. He decided to not defend his championships in the 200 fly and 400 I.M.