August 28, 2000


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World records promise big splash in Olympic pool

Derek Parr in London

World record sprees led by Ian Thorpe and Inge de Bruijn point the way to speed and excitement ahead in the Sydney Olympic pool next month.

Australia's Susie O'Neil in actionThe eight-day swimming programme in the Homebush Bay pool will be the highlight of the Games for many in the world's most enthusiastic swimming nation and Australians will revel in the exploits of 17-year-old Thorpe plus compatriots Susan O'Neill, Kieren Perkins, Grant Hackett and Michael Klim, global champions all.

Australians lead the world in six of the 26 individual events this year and look sure to embellish a proud tradition in Olympic swimming established by the likes of Dawn Fraser, Murray Rose, Mike Wenden, Shane Gould and Perkins himself.

Thorpe, who became the youngest men's world champion in history when he won the 400 metres freestyle in Perth in January 1998, has already proved himself in the Sydney Olympic pool.

He set three freestyle world records there -- the 400 and, twice, the 200 -- at last August's Pan Pacific championships and repeated the trick at the Olympic trials in the same pool in May.

O'Neill too achieved a crowning feat at the trials at Homebush Bay when she finally broke Mary T. Meagher's 200 metres butterfly world record which had stood for nearly 19 years.

Hackett, who succeeded Perkins as world champion, will be favourite to wrest the Olympic 1,500 metres freestyle crown from his compatriot, the gold medallist of 1992 and 1996.

Klim, winner of four golds at the 1998 world champpionships, has pulled out of a forlorn clash with Thorpe in the 200 freestyle but hopes to topple his training partner Alexander Popov in the 100 freestyle and subdue the threat of fellow Australian Geoff Huegill in the 100 butterfly.

But the Australians can expect no monopoly and others have shared in the world record rush, none more spectacularly this year than American-based Dutch freestyle and butterfly sprinter De Bruijn, who broke seven world records and equalled one between May and July.

Popov, based in Australia for more than three years but still a Russian, has also hit top form in Olympic year, bouncing back after rare defeats in 1999 to break the 50 metres freestyle world record in Moscow in June and reclaim his European 50 and 100 freestyle crowns in Helsinki in July.

Popov won both freestyle sprints in 1992 and 1996 and, like Perkins in the 1,500, is aiming to become the first man to win the same individual Olympic swimming event three times and match the achievement of two women -- Fraser in the 100 freestyle and Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi in the 200 backstroke.

The year's other world long-course records in Olympic events have come from Popov's Russian team mate Roman Sludnov in the men's 100 metres breaststroke and American Tom Malchow, who bettered the 200 metres butterfly mark of Russian 1996 Olympic champion Denis Pankratov.

Other world marks have been set in non-Olympic events -- three in the women's 50 backstroke (Spain's Nina Zhivanevskaya, Japan's Mai Nakamura and Germany's Sandra Voelker), one in the men's 50 butterfly (Huegill) and two in the women's 50 butterfly (both De Bruijn).

In stark contrast to this year's rich crop, no world long-course records fell in 1996 until the Atlanta Olympics, where four were set -- Pankratov in the 100 butterfly, Belgium's Frederik DeBurghgraeve and South Africa's Penny Heyns in the men's and women's 100 breaststroke and the U.S. men's 4x100 medley relay.

Pankratov has struggled since 1996, while DeBurghgraeve went on to become world champion in 1998 but retired this year after failing to achieve the Olympic qualifying time, saying he was tired and did not want to go to Sydney and return without a medal.

Heyns has so far had a quiet 2000 after an awesome 1999 during which she broke eight long-course -- four at Homebush Bay in the Pan Pacific championships -- and three-short-course world records.

But she is still in the top five this year in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, in both of which she is defending Olympic champion, and will be saving her big effort for Sydney.

Americans always excel in the pool at the Olympics and their trials in Indianapolis earlier this month produced some fast swims.

Gary Hall, second behind his arch-rival Popov in both the 50 and 100 freestyle in Atlanta, and Anthony Ervin were each inside fellow American Tom Jager's 50 freestyle mark which had stood as world record for 10 years until Popov beat it in June.

Dara Torres, making her fourth U.S. Olympic team at the advanced swimming age of 33, and world champion Jenny Thompson swam 100 butterfly times bettered only by De Bruijn, while Ed Moses swam within 0.08 seconds of Sludnov's new 100 breaststroke world standard.

De Bruijn can also expect a run for her money from the Americans in the 50 and 100 freestyle -- Torres competing in both, reigning Olympic and world champion Amy Van Dyken in the 50 and world champion Thompson in the 100.

All of them, however, could be upstaged by Sweden's Therese Alshammar, who has shattered the short-course records in both events and won the European titles in Helsinki -- in the absence of De Bruijn -- in rapid times, with plenty to spare for Sydney.

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