FINA World Championships, Swimming: Early Thoughts From Steven Selthoffer

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By Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World Senior European correspondent

ROME, Italy, July 28. UNDER blistering hot conditions the Rome World Championships are proceeding as crowds seek shade and rehydration. Speaking with the parents of Australian, standout, Christian Sprenger, 50 and 100 breast, they stated, with a natural Australian smile and ease, that the heat and conditions did not bother them. It was also true for many of the Americans and some from other countries.

However, the organizing committee has fallen short of expectations for a Championship event, as many spectators are doing their best to make good of a less than perfect Championships. The recent FINA Congress has resulted in a new President, producing a superficial calm, hiding the underlying tensions throughout the federation. The swimsuit controversy was only one of many tempestuous topics in a controversial and storm filled season.

Women's 200 IM
The finals of the women's 200 IM featured Ariana Kukors, USA, giving a technical clinic on her way to gold and a new world record of 2:06.15. A dominating swim, taking the fly out in a 27.72 at the wall in second, then asserting herself in back with a split of 31.52 (59.29), and posting a fast breaststroke split of 37.07 (1:36.31). Then bringing it home and in control for a new world record of 2:06.15.

Stephanie Rice, AUS, picked up the pace on the breaststroke leg, clocking a 37.43 split, and came in second tying the old world record of Kukors, set earlier in the meet with a 2:07.03. Rounding out the podium was Katinka Hosszu, HUN, with a 2:07.46 in third. Hungary has a history of developing great all round swimmers in IM for decades, and now the trend continues with Hosszu in third and Evelyn Verraszto, 2:09.98 in 7th.

"It's incredible to beat Stephanie," Kukors said. "She has always been a role model for me. I have never stopped believing I could fulfill my dream, and my dream is coming true. Stephanie was so close to me in the last 50 meters, but I had a strong finish and I hit the wall hard."

"I'm happy," Rise said. "I'm exhausted. I did the best I could. What Ariana did tonight was mind blowing and I just was not good enough but I achieved a 1.5 second personal best."

"I'm very satisfied with the result," Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry said. "I knew it would have been a tough race because I had only 15 minutes between the two events. (she competed in the 100m backstroke semi-final event moving through to finals).

Women's 200 Free Prelims
Dana Vollmer, USA, and Allison Schmitt, USA, posted times of 1:55.98 and 1:56.75 respectively leading prelims for the top two slots going into semis. Not bad for morning office work. Joanne Jackson, GBR, was third in 1:56.81

Men's 200 Free
The real story was last night in the men's 200m free semis with Michael Phelps, USA, posting a third-best time of 1:45.23. Sitting next to the USA Team, there was a typical quietness and confidence in the air as Phelps mounted the blocks. Phelps went out with a 26.71 split at the 50 comfortably turning with the field. Then at the 100 he turned 51.83.

A slow turn, nothing spectacular, four or five underwater dolphin kicks, then surfacing with the rest of the field at his shoulders. The crowd saw vulnerability with the rest of the field so close. Then, going into the third turn, things changed. Then Phelps, turned at the 150 and Boom! Seven to eight underwater dolphin kicks, a little streamlining, and it was all over. He surfaced 1.5 meters ahead of the field, closing the evening's work out with a 1:45.23. Years of work, thousands of hours of aerobic training he pulled the trigger, and no one could stay with him.

Paul Biedermann, GER, posted the fastest split of the night with a 1:43.65 still feeling good after his new world record, taking down Thorpe's old record in the 400m free. It has been since 1993 that a German has won an individual event at the FINA World Championships.

In spite of the women's success, Germany has been considered in a dry spell at the Olympic and World Championships the last 12 to 16 years with the men's team, largely due to the fact that numerous pool closings/shutdowns throughout the country, around Berlin, in East Germany and elsewhere, due to a lack of city funding. The talent is there, as Britta Steffen and Company have demonstrated, but, the age-group programs have suffered the most, drying up the talent base in all age-groups, that feed the national teams.

Men's 200m Fly
Pawel Korzeniowski, POL, finished first in prelims with a 1:54.33, followed by Phelps, USA, in at 1:54.35 and Tyler Clary, USA, at 1:54.42. Clary, NCAA Champion and Michigan trained, is coming on strong. Out in a 54.71, he has the goods to challenge for a second spot. Phelps is unlikely, to relinquish his crown in the 200, swimming conservatively, in the heats and semis.

Later this evening we will report from the pool, the MPC, and the Mixed Zone with behind the scenes commentary and quotes from athletes, coaches and federation officials.