By John Lohn
PHILADELPHIA, Penn., USA, June 17. LET’S be honest here. No one is going to beat Aaron Peirsol. Well, barring any sort of disaster. If Peirsol climbs the blocks, focused and in prime shape, just escort him to the medal podium. Simply, the man has made that big a mark in the dorsal events.
The questions at the World Championships in Montreal are not whether Peirsol will mine gold, but how fast he can sizzle. Can he become the first man in history to crack the 53-second barrier for the 100-meter distance? How decisive can he win the 200 distance? At the United States Trials in early April, Peirsol stole the show, setting a world record of 53.17 in the two-lap event. That showing was easily the highlight of the week.
Since winning Olympic silver in the 200 back during the Sydney Games of 2000, Peirsol has been nearly unstoppable in the backstroke disciplines. He enters the World Champs as the defending titlist in the 100 and 200 distances and also earned that double at the Athens Olympics. The University of Texas product, quite simply, is competing at another level.
So, who is battling for the other podium positions? The list, really, is fairly open. Randall Bal, second to Peirsol at the U.S. Trials, has the second-fastest time in the world this year at 54.01. That time would have been good enough for silver in Athens, but Bal ran into a gauntlet at the U.S. Olympic Trials and failed to make the team. Consider this his chance at redemption.
Beyond the American pair, Japan’s Tomomi Morita looked sharp in winning the 100 back at the Japanese Nationals, where he clocked 54.36. That effort equaled the mark Morita posted en route to bronze at last summer’s Olympics. Meanwhile, Austria’s Markus Rogan should be in the mix, although he has not been swimming particularly quick this year. Also on the factor list are Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh and Australia’s Matt Welsh.
In the longer backstroke, Rogan was the Olympic silver medalist and figures to round into form by the time Montreal kicks into high gear. As for Romania’s Razvan Florea, the Olympic bronze medalist enjoyed a strong showing during the Mare Nostrum Series in Europe. Then there’s Ryan Lochte, the American who is poised for an international breakout in the event and who is capable of giving the U.S. a one-two sweep.