After an unfortunate delay in the start of the finals of over one hour due to an electronic short circuit affecting the timing system, the championships got underway under the blazing South American sun at 2:30 pm (scheduled for a 1:30 pm start).
Men's 100 butterfly: Scott Miller, AUS, started off the championships with what was to become almost a routine for the four days of the championships.Two Aussies would be battling it out for the medals and the best of the day would get the gold, with the other settling for silver or bronze.
This event set the pattern. Miller qualified second, as Denis Pimankov, RUS, bettered the meet record in the prelims. In the finals, Miller and the second Australian, Michael Klim, battled stroke for stroke with Pimankov. The Aussies picked up the gold and the bronze.
Women's 200 butterfly: Australian superstar Susan O'Neill continued her pursuit of the world record. She out-duelled perennial Chinese rival Limin Liu with a torrid pace from the first stroke. O'Neill was ahead of the 1981 world record pace by Mary T. Meagher.
Record O'Neill Liu 29.40 28.89 29.28 1:01.40 1:00.44 1:02.11 1:33.90 1:32.93 1:34.42 2:05.65 2:06.18 2:06.51
The times were second and third fastest ever. O'Neill perhaps went out too fast. She lost the record by 53/100ths but was able to hold off the better paced Limin Liu.
Men's 200 freestyle: It was to be Gustavo Borges' turn to show Brazilian fans why they came to cheer in the sweltering sunshine.
Borges had the added incentive of a recently announced financial award from meet sponsor Coca-Cola: U.S. $6,000 for a gold medal, $3,000 for a silver and $1,500 for a bronze. The swimmer's coaches would receive an additional 20% of the athlete's amount.
Borges, the tallest competitor in the championships at 2.02 m, swiming with a long, gliding, classic six-beat freestyle, took the lead early and had a full body lead with 50 m to go. His win brought the wildly cheering crowd to its feet (The crowd would be doused down periodically by two water hoses. Entry was free and most just walked in from Copacabana Beach in their bathing suits. )
Borges won with 1:45.55 over Trent Bray, NZL, 1:46.18 and Michael Klim, AUS, 1:46.44, who took the bronze in the 100 fly earlier.
Women's 100 freestyle: Jingyi Le, CHN, left no doubt she will be ready in Atlanta next summer. With few performances since the Rome World Championships in 1994, she easily won in the second fastest short course time ever of 53.23, with 15-year-old newcomer Na Chao , CHN, in second. Canada's Shannon Shakespeare, finished fourth with 54.82, moving up from her fifth place finish two years ago.
Jinyi Le of China was the easy winner in the 50m and 100m freestyle and the 4x100m free relay. For larger 50k photo click on image. Photo © Ari Gomes
Germany's highly promoted superstar Franziska van Almsick was disqualified at the start for what was deemed to be an intentional false start. She subsequently withdrew from all her individual swims, but did compete in the relays.
Men's 400 individual medley: Curtis Myden, CAN, the defending champion from 1993, battled long-time Australian rival Matthew Dunn for the gold.
Myden took the early lead, with Dunn stroke for stroke. Myden was just ahead after backstroke but Dunn had the better breast leg, and with his superior freestyle clinched another win over the Canadian. Dunn established a new championship, Australian, and Commonwealth record with 4:08.02, while Myden did his lifetime best, and bettered the last of Alex Baumann's Canadian I.M. records, with 4:09.39.
Women's 400 individual medley: After the close battle in the men's race, the odds for Canada improved in this event as Nancy Sweetnam qualified first and Joanne Malar fourth. The early battle was between Elli Overton, AUS, who took the lead after the fly. Overton held the lead after the back, with Malar second. Britta Vestergaard, DEN, moved into the lead on the breaststroke leg, with Sweetnam moving into second and Malar third.
Canada's Joanne Malar winner of the 400m I.M. For larger 50k photo click on image. Photo © Ari Gomes
With two lengths to go, Malar was still in third. But putting on a fantastic burst in the last 50, Malar touched first, with Sweetnam also moving past Vestergaard for second. An unprecedented Canadian 1-2 sweep.
Overton, the leader for the first half faded to fifth and there were no Australians on the podium.
Sweetnam, in finishing strongly in the free leg, had obviously improved one of her perennial weaknesses. Nancy's coach, Marian Sweetnam, explained "she's worked hard on the freestyle leg, while training in Florida."
It was a Canadian record for Malar. Sweetnam, the old record holder, posted her personal best. Malar had minutes to warm-down and get ready for the anchor leg of the 4x200 free relay, with only the men's relay in between.
Men's 4x100 medley relay: Four years ago New Zealand was disqualified in this event. After the prelims, where they qualified first, they would have to hold off the favoured Australians, which they successfully did.
They beat the Australians for the first time ever. One surprised Aussie explained, "It's just not on, mate."
Australia's anchor leg Michael Klim couldn't make up the half-a-second lead the kiwis had. Klim was feeling the effect of the two third place finishes earlier, in the 100 fly and the 400 I.M.
Women's 4x200 free relay: It wasn't going to be easy. Germany and Australia looked unbeatable on paper. If everyone did what they're capable of, Canada could be in the hunt.
The Germans took the lead after Dagmar Hase swam 1:59.41, with Anna Windsor, AUS, close behind in 1:59.41. Canadian lead-off swimmer Marianne Limpert split 2:00.30 putting the team in third. The Canadians took a slight lead with Shannon Shakespeare, who battled Samantha Mackie, AUS. Sarah Evanetz swam the third leg against veteran Aussie supe-star Nicole Stevenson, who swam a poor 2:03.34, while Evanetz went 2:00.09. With a solid lead, Malar was swimming to win, ending the afternoon with her second gold, splitting 1:59.07.
Golden handshake: Shannon Shakespeare congratulates Joanne Malar after successfully anchoring the 4x200m free relay. For larger 50k photo click on image. Photo © Ari Gomes
Two years ago Canada finished fourth in 8:09.08. Their time in Rio of 7:58.25 was another national record, the third of the day.
After one day of competition, Canadians had two golds and two silvers and three national records, one of the best days ever.
Notes: The temporary structure for the competition was built from scaffolding and it served its purpose quite well. The day it rained, it wasn't entirely waterproof, but that was not much of a problem. The lack of adequate washrooms was. Only portable toilets were available and these were not very attractive.
The electronic short-circuit was caused by frayed wiring shorting out against the metal supports. A giant spark scared the timing system operators. It shut down the equipment until the short was patched.
Rio has the most amazing traffic. North Americans invented the traffic jam, but Brazilians have raised it to an art form. Copacabana Beach fronts on a divided six lane road. Traffic flow would reverse at different times of the day. But it always seemed to be semi-paralyzed. On Sundays, three lanes would be closed to traffic, and pedestrians ruled.