By Stephen J. Thomas and Phillip Whitten
BARCELONA, July 25. IT was a magical evening, a mythical evening, an evening the likes of which have rarely been seen before in the history of sport.
While a soft, warm, Mediterranean breeze wafted over the Catalonian city of Barcelona, Hurricane Michael was taking the city — and the swimming world — by storm.
By the time the hurricane had passed (for this night, at least) the record book was in shambles, with numbers crossed out and then crossed out again, and pages ripped from the binding. In less than an hour, one Michael Phelps, 18, had utterly destroyed two world records, leaving them in tatters, and in the process, ascended to a higher plane occupied only by the Immortals of the sport of swimming. Talk about destructive teenagers — this guy is a one-man wrecking crew!
As the lights dimmed in the Palau Sant Jordi, young Master Phelps had performed the unprecedented feat of breaking two world in one day. In the process, he became the first swimmer to own world records in the 100 and 200m butterfly and the 200 and 400m IM simultaneously.
Strange as it may seem, there was much more to tonight's story than "just" Michael. In a brilliant performance, Amanda Beard equalled the world record in the 200 breast; Aaron Peirsol took the 200 back; Grant Hackett won the 800 free; and Finn Hanna Seppala annexed the 100 free.
In semifinal action, Ukraine's Andriy Serdinov broke the world record in the first heat of the 100 fly, holding it for almost three minutes until Phelps finished his swim; Alex Popov topped all qualifiers in the 50 free, taking another step toward an unprecedented sprint triple-double; Holland's Inky De Bruijn remained dominant in the 50 fly; and Russia's Stanislava Komarova posted the fasted 200 back time.
Here's how it went down tonight:
Men’s 200 IM
In a simply astounding swim, American Michael Phelps trashed his own outstanding world mark last night by a massive 1.48 seconds, having now lowered it three times in the past month – a total of 2.12 seconds. Prior to Phelps’ phenomenal run the record held by Finn Jani Sievinen of 1:58.16 had stood since the World Champs in Rome in 1994.
Tonight Phelps was under world record pace the entire race! Here is a comparison of his splits:
Semi: 25.74 55.38 1:30.32 1:57.52
Final: 25.29 54.33 1:28.84 1:56.04
Semi: 25.74(fly) 29.64 (ba) 34.94 (br) 27.20 (free)
final: 25.29(fly) 29.04 (ba) 34.51 (br) 27.20 (free)
less than an hour earlier, Phelps had crushed Michael Klim's 100 fly mark in the semis. Phelps said of his two world record-breaking swims: "I went out to break both records tonight and that’s what I did. After the fly I just went out and warmed down then headed back into the waiting room."
His coach, Bob Bowman, said of his performance in the IM: "It was a logical progression for him (to go 1:56) given his times in training. I was more worried about mental than physical exhaustion tonight but he handled in very well."
And then there was Ian Thorpe. The Aussie champion had never swum this race before at an international meet. Thorpe held third place at the second turn behind George Bovell of Trinidad, but ahead of Olympic and world champ Italian Massi Rosolino and former world record-holder Jani Sievinen. Thorpe swam a better breaststroke leg tonight, holding third, but was behind the Italian at the final turn. He then powered into his best leg to come home over the top of Rosolino and touch him out by just 0.05 seconds, snatching silver in a NR 1:59.66 to Rosolino’s 1:59.71. Thorpe becomes the 5th fastest performer all-time. The 29-year-old Sievinen was 4th in 1:59.98. American Kevin Clements finished 7th in 2:01.51.
Thorpe said after his silver medal performance, “It was unknown territory for me, I used to swim it when I was young, so coming second here does not worry me. It has helped with my overall preparation and provided variety to my training.”
Women’s 200 breaststroke
American Amanda Beard said after her world record-equalling swim tonight that her coach had called it a perfect race. That’s a fair call from up in the press box.
The 21-year-old Beard and Aussie Leisel Jones took the race out fast. Jones was well under world record pace at the 50 and again at the 100 with her 1:08.95, with Beard about a second behind but also just under WR pace.
At the final turn it was Jones with a reduced lead, 1:46.41 (-0.23) to Beard's 1:46.80 (+0.16) and world record-holder China’s Qi Hui well off the pace in third (1:47.77).
The American with her characteristic high action stroke was quickly gaining on Jones; Beard had the petrol and stroked to the wall in 2:22.99, equalling the time set by Qi, who took bronze in 2:25.78, Jones had to be content with silver in an Australian record 2:24.33 and 6th all-time performer.
Men’s 800m freestyle
Aussie Grant Hackett took silver behind countryman Ian Thorpe at the last World Champs in the second fastest swim over the distance. Tonight there was no Thorpe to race and Hackett had said several times this year that the Thorpedo’s world record would be his invisible competitor. He would have to be well ahead of Thorpe’s record pace by mid-race to have a chance.
In the third section he was just that, but just as happened in his previous attempts, he dropped behind the devastatingly fast final 200 set by Thorpe.
Hackett was not challenged tonight. Brit Graeme Smith was in second place early, but gave way to American distance hope Larsen Jensen at the 500-meters, and then Ukranian Igor Chervynski around the 700-meter mark. Hackett finished in 7:43.82, the 4th fastest swim all-time, 18-year-old Jensen set a new American record to take silver in 7:48.09 (4th all-time performer behind classy company, Aussies Thorpe, Hackett and Kieren Perkins).
Chervynski took the bronze in a national record 7:53.15.
Men’s 200 backstroke
American Aaron Peirsol set the championship record last night when he swam the second fastest race in history. Tonight the 20-year-old world record-holder wasn’t far off his best again, showing clear water to his rivals in a dominant performance, winning his second dorsal gold of the championships when he touched in 1:55.92.
European champ, Croatian Gordan Kozulj, clocked another NR 1:57.47 (6th fastest all-time performer) to take silver. Frenchman Simon Dufour (1:57.90) just held of a fast finishing American rising star Bryce Hunt (PR 1:57.92) by 0.02 seconds to take bronze.
Women’s 100 freestyle
On her form at this meet, 18- year-old Finn Hanna-Maria Seppala certainly looks she will be a major contender for the Olympic freestyle sprints next year. Much as she has in the prelims, Seppala dominated from the start, flipping first in 25.96 well in advance of the field and holding her form to take gold in NR 54.37.
The fast finishing Aussie champ Jodie Henry, seventh at the 50, came home over the top of American Jenny Thompson under the flags to take silver (54.58) with Thompson the bronze (54.65).
Men’s 100m butterfly
Many "experts" thought that talented American teen Michael Phelps might go easy in his semifinal as he had the 200m IM final to follow not long after this race and he could go for the record tomorrow night.
That sounded a reasonable analysis before the semis were raced. First Ukrainian Andriy Serdinov, the European silver medalist upset the script a little turning 0.03 under Aussie Michael Klim’s WR split (24.49) and racing home in a new WR 51.76 (-0.05 under Klim’s ’99 record). American Ian Crocker went a quick 52.21 to equal his PR from Pan Pacs, taking second ahead of the European champ, German Thomas Rupprath (52.37).
Then, in the second semi, there was one Michael Phelps ready to rock. He turned in 25.11 but came home like no man has before in 26.36 to break the Ukranian’s short lived record by 0.29 seconds – WR 51.47. Question: What will he do tomorrow night?
Men’s 50m freestyle
Popov set a new championship record 21.98 this morning. Tonight the Russian sprint legend splashed another time under 22-seconds, but only just – 21.99.
American Jason Lezak clocked 22.14 to be second best, Dutchman Johan Kenkhuis was next (22.31), followed closely by Frenchmen Julien Sicot (22.32), Ukrainian Olersandr Volynets (22.34) and Pieter van den Hoogenband (22.36) with Brit Mark Foster and Aussie Brett Hawke rounding out the eight.
Women’s 50m butterfly
Championship record-holder Inky De Bruijn lowered her heat time, clocking 25.94, making the only qualifier under 26-seconds.
China’s Zhou Yafei and world record-holder, Sweden’s Anna-Karin Kammerling, were next in 26.73 with Inky’s teammate Chantal Groot in 26.82 from Israel’s Vered Borochovsky (26.97).
American Jenny Thompson just made it after having just taken bronze in the 100 free. Her teammate Mary Descenza missed the cut, as did Aussie rookie Libby Lenton who had also swum the 100 free final.
Women’s 200m backstroke
Russian Stanislava Komarova continues to look good in this event, the only swimmer to drop under 2:10 thus far. The 17-year-old clocked 2:09.39 to head Brit Katy Sexton (2:10.47) and Ukrainian Iryna Amshennikova (2:11.08) and Japan’s Ito Hanae (2:11.13).
Pan Pac champion, American Margaret Hoelzer also made it through in 2:11.38 with Brit Sarah Price (2:11.69) still in with a chance.