By Stephen J. Thomas
BARCELONA, July 21. FIRST the Aussies Matt Welsh in the 50m butterfly and Leisel Jones in the 100m breaststroke lowered world records. Then Japan's brilliant pocket rocket, Kosuke Kitajima, smashed the men's 100m breaststroke mark in a stunning night of swimming.
The world records overshadowed some other impressive swims, which included three championship records. Ukranian dual Olympic gold medalist, Yana Klochkova, set a new championship record in winning the 200m IM with the third fastest swim all-time. The USA's Jenny Thompson lowered the CR in the 100m fly for the third time this meet to take gold; and teammate Aaron Peirsol also set a new CR in the 100m backstroke semi-final.
Men's 50m butterfly
Dorsal specialist Matt Welsh took up the 50 fly for a bit of variety, so when he qualified second behind world record-holder Geoff Huegill to compete here he had no real expectations. Starting out in lane 8 tonight — he was the last qualifier — Welsh was quickest off the blocks and came home in 23.43, just 0.01 seconds under teammate Geoff Huegill's world mark.
Welsh said of his swim, “I had nothing to prove here. There was no pressure. This was meant to be a fun event for me. I looked at the clock and realized I'd won, then that I'd broken the world record. It was a total surprise.”
His coach Ian Pope said, “I told him to concentrate on getting a fast start and he did that. He did minimal fly training coming into this, just some quality sets. I just asked him where that (swim) came from and he just shrugged his shoulders.”
American Ian Crocker failed to quite capture his very fast semi swim (AR 23.47, the 3rd fast swim all-time) but still took the silver in 23.62 from Russian newcomer Evgueni Korotychkine PR 23.73. Huegill finished just out of the money clocking 23.76.
Men's 100m breaststroke
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima had only last month lost his world record in the 200 breast to Russian Dmitri Komornikov, but it seemed that after becoming only the second man to break the minute last night in the semifinals, it was only a matter of time before he snatched the 100 breast record from another Russian, Roman Sloudnov.
The race went as expected with British hope James Gibson again taking it out well under record pace in 27.86, with fellow Brit Darren Mew second in 28.35, American Brendan Hansen third in 28.48 and Kitajima building his race in sixth place 28.61 (he went 28.66 last night). The Japanese came home over the top of his rivals to touch in 59.78 slicing 0.16 off Russian Roman Sloudnov's world mark set in Fukuoka. Hansen took silver in 1:00.21 equalling Ed Moses' American record and Gibson taking Great Britain's first medal in third place ahead of Moses (1:00.87).
Kitajima said of his performance: “This is good motivation for next year as well. I relaxed during the first part of the race, then sped up for the second lap which is when I swam fastest. I am very happy about the world record.”
Gibson praised the Japanese after the race, “Kitajima did very well. I had a good race but will have to work harder for next year.”?
Women's 100m butterfly
The amazing Jenny Thompson proved once again that age is no barrier in swimming when she repeated her victory from the '98 championships in Perth. The 30-year-old was second at the turn behind Swede Anna-Karin Kammerling, but she powered home to a new CR, 57.96, over the fast finishing 200m world record-holder, Pole Otylia Jedrzejczak (58.22), who just edged out Olympic silver medalist Slovakian Martina Moravcova (58.24).
It was a disappointing sight to see an ill Natalie Coughlin battle to finish in last place.
Women's 200m IM
Ukranian Yana Klochkova, the Olympic champion in this event, dominated the final splitting under world record pace until the final freestyle leg where she fell behind, but still swam sufficiently fast to record the third fastest swim in history over the distance and set a new CR 2:10.75.
The surprise of the race was 17-year-old Aussie Alice Mills who came into this meet with a PR of 2:14.84. Tonight Mills lowered her Australian record set in the prelims, coming home from second-t0-last place at the 150-mark with the fastest freestyle split in history to clock 2:12.75 for the silver medal. China's Zhou Yafei took the bronze in 2:12.92. American Maggie Bowen, the gold medalist from Fukuoka, finished fifth in 2:14.60.
Mills said after the race, “I have been coming on pretty well in medley and I knew I had it in me ,so I just went for it. Tonight I was so relaxed, I'd already done what I wanted to achieve here so this was just an extra bonus.”?
Women's 100m breaststroke
Aussie champ Leisel Jones achieved what she has been threatening for some time – the perfect race. The 17-year-old Olympic silver medalist wiped South African Penny Heyns' world mark from the books when she splashed 1:06.37, taking 0.15 off the record set at the '99 Pan Pacs in Sydney. Jones was overcome with tears after she looked up at the board and realized her achievement.
“Those weren't quite tears of joy but close to it,”she said. “It was quite a shock to see the result on the scoreboard. It still hasn't sunk in but I'm sure it will tonight when I go to bed. It was one of my most perfect swims. I think it was seeing Matt (Welsh) set a world record that inspired me.”?
Jones took the race out comfortably turning in 31.40 (Heyns went 31.16) and powered home to qualify more than a second ahead of American Amanda Beard (1:07.57) and reigning world champ China's Luo Xuejuan (1:07.76).
Beard's time took more than a second off her best from way back at the '96 Atlanta Olympics where she took silver. Her teammate Tara Kirk also made the final cut in 1:08.25, as did Aussie Brooke Hanson (PR 1:08.25).
Women's 100m backstroke
German Antje Buschschulte, the bronze medalist in this event in Fukuoka, set a new PR 1:00.61 (9th all-time performer) in qualifying fastest for the medal race ahead of Spanish rival Nina Zhivanevskaya who also swam a PR 1:00.74 (her best since '94 WC's in Rome).
Brit Katy Sexton was third through in 1:01.32 (with a world leading 1:00.49 from March). Without Natalie Coughlin, the world record-holder, in the final the gold is up for grabs. Japan's Mai Nakamura, Russian Stanislava Komarova, Ukranian Iryna Amshennikova and Brit Sarah Price are all in the mix for medals.
Men's 200m free
The flying Dutchman, Pieter van den Hoogenband, was easily the fastest qualifier for the final in a very fast 1:46.32. Only his archrivals — Aussies Ian Thorpe (1:47.20) and Grant Hackett (1:47.72) — have ever swum faster. Both Thorpe and Hackett have a much tougher program at this meet than Hoogie. Expect Thorpe, in particular, to be closer to money tomorrow, though it may need a world record to take gold.
American Nate Dusing (1:48.66) qualified fourth, Canadian Rick Say and american record-holder, Klete Keller, did not get through.
Men's 100 backstroke
American Aaron Peirsol clocked a championship record 54.28 to qualify fastest, breaking Aussie rival Matt Welsh's winning time of 54.31 from '01 in Fukuoka.
Russian teenager Arkady Vyatchanin continued to impress, again lowering the national record he set in the heats to clock 54.49 (8th fastest all-time performer). The Russian came into the meet with an '03 best of 55.40. German Steffen Driesen was next in 54.60 and Malaysian Alex Lim set a national record when he and Welsh clocked the same time of 54.77.
Welsh ran from his medal ceremony for the 50 fly to make the start, so expect a close tussle between Peirsol and Welsh.