Great Races: The Controversial Showdown of Otylia Jedrzejczak and Jessicah Schipper (Video)

Jessicah Schipper -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Great Races: The Controversial Showdown of Otylia Jedrzejczak and Jessicah Schipper

Controversy has long been a component of sports, and the aquatic world got its latest taste over the weekend. When the Cali Condors were disqualified in the women’s 400-meter medley relay during the International Swimming League’s Season Three final, the call opened the door for Energy Standard to secure its second team title in three years.

Although it was difficult to see – from the deck or via underwater cameras – officials cited Lilly King for a non-simultaneous touch during her breaststroke leg. With the Condors DQ’d, there was a 44-point swing in favor of Energy Standard. Ultimately, Energy won the ISL team battle, 534-522, meaning the disqualification obviously was a deciding factor in the outcome.

The disqualification brought back memories of another controversial finish – the showdown between Poland’s Otylia Jedrzejczak and Australia’s Jessicah Schipper in the final of the 200 butterfly at the 2005 World Championships. It was in Montreal where Jedrzejczak’s finish ignited controversy, as the Polish star and reigning Olympic champion utilized a one-hand touch at the wall.

Otylia Jedrzejczak ISHOF honoree

Photo Courtesy: Otylia Jedrzejczak

As Swimming World continues its Great Races Series, we’ll look back at the duel between Jedrzejczak and Schipper. It was a dazzling clash that saw both women dip under the previous world record, with question marks raised in the race’s aftermath.

Heading into the World Champs, Jedrzejczak and Schipper owned polar backstories. Jedrzejczak was the established star, a gold (200 butterfly) and silver (100 fly) medalist at the previous year’s Olympic Games in Athens. More, she was reigning world champ in the 200 fly and a three-time European titlist in the event. As for Schipper, she was a rising star. At the Athens Games, she just missed the podium in the 100 butterfly with a fourth-place finish, and it was a matter of time before she emerged as an individual medalist on the international stage.

Schipper actually made her mark early in Montreal, as she won the 100 butterfly in a championship record and beat Jedrzejczak, who was the bronze medalist behind Aussie Libby Lenton. The fact that Schipper had officially arrived and Jedrzejczak was in superb form made their showdown in the 200 fly a much-anticipated event.

Not surprisingly, Schipper pressed the pace from the start, turning in first place at the 50- (28.24) and 100-meter (1:00.61) marks. The Polish star, though, was lingering close behind, as she made the turns in 28.90 and 1:01.19. On the third 50, Jedrzejczak made a move and closed the Aussie’s advantage to just .16, 1:32.91 to 1:33.07.

Over the last length, Schipper and Jedrzejczak battled stroke for stroke, the eye unable to separate the foes. At the wall, there was still no way to decipher a winner, until the clock revealed that Jedrzejczak was timed in 2:05.61, with Schipper going 2:05.65. Both times were under the previous world record of 2:05.78, which Jedrzejczak had set in 2002, and the women congratulated one another.

While the race produced fireworks, the off-the-deck sparks were still to come. Video footage of the race showed that Jedrzejczak used a one-handed touch at the finish, a move that should have been met with a disqualification. But because officials did not see the violation, there was no recourse for Schipper and the Australian camp.

“I think it’s always going to be a difficult situation under the current rules of swimming,” said Alan Thompson, Australia’s National Team Coach. “You can put a protest in, but unfortunately video evidence can’t be used as evidence. I think if the referees had seen an infraction, they would have reported that and that would have been the case. They don’t have the benefit of video evidence, but I think that’s something that we should be looking at in this sport.”

The finish of the 200 butterfly marked the second time in as many years that athletes and coaches called for the use of video replay to settle controversies. A year earlier, en route to the gold medal ahead of American Brendan Hansen at the Athens Olympics, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima was shown using an illegal dolphin kick in the 100 breaststroke. Nothing could be done in that situation, either.

Schipper learned about the one-handed touch by Jedrzejczak just before her press conference, but the Aussie took the high road and was all class in discussing the situation. Two years later, she was the world champion in the event in Melbourne.

“It was a three-second (personal best), so I’m over the moon about it,” Schipper said of her performance. “I’m definitely not disappointed at all.”

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Jim Smith

    I’ll never forget that finish. The one handed touch was blatant. How the officials missed this when it was so obvious is beyond me.

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