Impressions of Rome

Guest editorial by John Craig

PHOENIX, Arizona, August 3. AFTER having been glued to the Internet and TV for the past week watching the meet, here are the impressions of one fan, in no particular order:

* I'm sick of the new suits. But I'm even sicker of hearing about them. Lost in all the publicity over the suits were a host of spectacular performances.

* If the women's 200 free had been scheduled right before the men's 200 fly on Wednesday, rather than right after, the gap between the two world records would have been less than a second for the first time in 23 years. There have been two times in history since butterfly records have been kept (starting in 1959) that the women's 200 free has been faster than the men's 200 fly WR: in 1960, when Dawn Fraser went 2:11.6, the men's WR was 2:16.4 by Michael Troy. Fraser's record stood for six years, while the men's fly record progressed fairly rapidly. By the time Pokey Watson broke Fraser's record with a 2:10.5 in 1966, the men's fly WR was already 2:06.6 by Kevin Berry.

When Kornelia Ender went a 1:58.26 in 1976, she was behind the men's fly record by only .03. When Barbara Krause went a 1:59.04 in 1978, she pulled ahead of the men's WR, then still a 1:59.23 set by Michael Bruner in 1976. (Ender and Krause, of course, have a very big metaphorical asterisk after their records.) Cynthia (Sippy) Woodhead then took the record down three more times, culminating with a 1:58.23 in 1979, staying ahead of the men. She was the last woman to occupy that position. Since then, only Kristin Otto and Heike Friedrich of the GDR, in 1984 and 1986, respectively, and both also with big asterisks, have even been within a second of the men's record. But had Pellegrini swum her 1:52.98 15 minutes earlier, she would have been within a second of Michael Phelps's 1:52.03 from Beijing. As it was, Phelps had just swum a 1:51.51.

* Gary Hall Jr. once said that as many great sprinters as there are at any given time, and as close as they seem to be, it always seems to be the same people who end up winning at the biggest meets. There has never been an era with more incredible male and female sprinters than now, but between Beijing and Rome, Hall's statement has been borne out by Cesar Cielo and Britta Steffen.

* After what must have been a very disappointing final for Therese Alshammar in the 50 fly, not even medaling after setting a WR in the semis, she bounced back nicely in her 50 free to get second in 23.88, a time that would have been a WR if not for Steffen. That showed a certain psychological resilience. Rebecca Soni showed similar resilience, breaking the existing WR in the 50 breast (and also getting second) after failing to medal in her best race, the 200 breast. (Who knew Soni had that kind of speed in a 50?)

* Marleen Veldhuis and Fred Bousquet swam well, but both seem to have hit their peaks earlier this year. A greater percentage of swimmers do seem to be able to swim fast all year round these days, much more so than, say, two decades ago. This probably has a lot to do with the advent of more dry land training and less yardage for sprinters and middle distance types.

* I've never seen anyone look more as if he were just warming up for the first two-thirds of a race than Sun Yang did during the first 1000 or so of his 1500. Not sure what it is about his stroke that makes him look that way, but it does seems to work for him, as he won the bronze.

* Paul Biedermann looked awfully strong. His un-tech suited equivalent time does not put him on a par with Thorpe in the 400, but it does put him right with Phelps' best 200.

* Aaron Perisol has always played it very cool in the heats and semis, and it was bound to come back to bite him sooner or later. He did come back to swim the perfect race in the 200 back though.

* If Ryosuke Irie ever gets his underwater dolphin together he will be hard to beat in the 200 back; at this meet he was beaten badly off every wall.

* What will Sarah Sjostrom's second Olympic event be? Given how dominant she was in the 100 fly, she must have potential in either the 100 free or 200 fly. (Her stroke actually looked more like a 200 flyer's stroke than a sprint flyer's stroke to me.) And how fast could she go with a good start? In both semis and finals she seemed to be last off the blocks and a good body length behind the leaders when she came up.

* Speaking of 15 year olds, Liz Pelton is probably still a year away from being a real force. Watch out for her IM; two years from now she will be in contention for that title. I suspect that meet will be her real debutante party.

* A number of the 400 IMers seemed to be tired by the end of the meet. Ryan Lochte, for instance, set a WR in the 200 IM, but was off his own best time in the 400 IM. Stephanie Rice and Laszlo Cseh also set personal bests in the 200 IM, but could not produce equivalent 400 IM's. (Tyler Clary, on the other hand, did save his best for last.) It may be harder to hold one's taper for the longer event; perhaps the order of the two events could be reversed next time around.)

* Bob Bowman knew about the new suits – and their effect — coming into Rome, and he knew that Phelps would be wearing a LZR beforehand as well. I have the highest respect for Bowman as a coach – in another piece for Swimming World I had expressed the hope that Laure Manaudou would make a comeback and train with him. But that outburst right after Phelps lost the 200 free came across like a hissy fit. Bowman should have made his statement about the suits either at the beginning or end of the meet.

* I never felt that Milorad Cavic said anything that really crossed the line, but to the extent that it was perceived as trash talking, it was probably good for swimming (on the theory that any publicity is good publicity.) Of course, Cavic's words were also good for Phelps' race, which turned out to be one of his best ever. (Perhaps next time around Mr. Cavic will have learned his lesson and will simply say beforehand what an honor it is to be in the same pool as the greatest swimmer of all time.)

* Phelps still has a much faster 200 fly in him. If his goggles hadn't filled with water in Beijing, he probably would have gone a 1:50+ there. And after six months of training following six months off, he couldn't have been in his best shape here.

* Rowdy Gaines is a huge asset to our sport. He's intelligent, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, modest, and likable. No other network swimming commentator has ever been able to combine all those qualities.

* The Roman crowd was as large and as enthusiastic as any within memory. That they were willing to brave the 100 degree temperatures to watch the meet says something about the current popularity of swimming. The New York Times sports section actually had swimming on its first page virtually every day this past week, which has never happened before in non-Olympic years.

* Look for a slew of "last chance"-type meets later this year, before the polyurethane suit ban goes into effect. Expect more records in November and December.

* Swimmers and coaches have learned that compression works, for both battling muscle fatigue and streamlining. Although next year's models will have restricted profiles, look for swimmers to wear suits a size or two too small for them, incorporating textile materials with less give (such as old-fashioned nylon).