Stars from the past including Murray Rose, John
Konrads, Jenny Turrall, Karen Moras, Dawn Fraser, Kevin Berry, and newly
elected Australian Swimming president Terry Gathercole turned out to see
the new kid on the blockSusie O'Neillinducted into the Pathway of Champions
in the entrance to the Sydney Aquatic Centre, site of the Sydney 2000 Olympic
Games Swimming, Water Polo, and Diving events. Kieren Perkins was again
inducted into the Pathway of Champions with his Atlanta feat in the 1500
freestyle, adding to his already impressive record from the 1992 Barcelona
Olympics, 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games, and 1994 Rome World Championships.
Meanwhile, a crop of current Olympic team members
from Australia, Canada, USA, Germany, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Denmark,
Ukraine, and the Netherlands were warming up with some precocious young
Aussies to take their share of the (AUS)$100,000 (about Cdn $100,000) offered
by a line-up of sponsors led by Australia's overseas and domestic airline,
More than 3500 paying spectators turned out to
see the new innovation in swimming competition and entertainment, all wondering
if you can make Australia's leading Olympic sport entertaining as well as
thrilling competitively. The organizers put forward a program of 50 metre
short course sprints in each of the strokes for men and women. Six athletes,
most of them Olympians, were invited from Australia and overseas. Each of
the sprints consisted of five 50-metre swims on two minute intervals, with
the last swimmer eliminated in the first four 50s, leaving two to fight
out the last race for first and second prize money. Separate 400 freestyle
events were swum for men and women with the leader at each 100 receiving
a bonus of $1000.
Innovation did not stop with the knockout sprints
and the eliminator 400 freestyle events. The program designers totally confused
or amused members of the public with their "Mystery Individual Medley."
On the day prior to the QANTAS SKINS Meet, the stroke order was drawn by
each swimmer but not announced until just before the race. It is difficult
trying to pick the winner of an I.M. at any time. Imagine trying to pick
the winner when some start on breaststroke, then follow with freestyle and
backstroke, and have to bring home the last leg butterfly. The public may
have been confused but Marcel Wouda, NED, and Marianne Limpert, CAN, certainly
were not when they took the $4500 prize money for their I.M. efforts.
"Skins" is linked to the Australian slang
expression of the early 19 th century meaning "to fleece," that
is, to take the wool off the sheep's back, to rob, to steal, or to take
by confidence trick. A skins meet is one in which the winners take the major
prize money by eliminating or skinning the opposition in a series of races.
Times were not the important element of the meet,
but Samantha Riley, AUS, showed a welcome return to the winners' circle
with some impressive stroke work (on the day the IOC announced that the
drug inadvertently given to her by her coach had been removed from the list
of banned substances). World 200 breaststroke record-holder Rebecca Brown
also brought a smile to Head Coach Don Talbot with a second place. Karoly
Guttler, HUN, and Philip Rogers, AUS, fought out the men's event with the
Hungarian showing greater stamina in the fifth and final 50 breast.
Chinese swimmers could manage no better than thirds,
but most swimmers are not in serious training yet.
The verdict was mixed. The evening was a success.
Some events worked better than others. Some fine tuning is required and
the stars need to be ready to "carry" the meet with impressive
performances. It is in their best interest to support these meets given
sufficient notice and incentives.
How to attract the stars of swimming is the questionbig dollars must be there if we are to see the Nick Faldos and Greg Normans of the pool fight out the aquatic equivalent of the golfers Skins Tournaments. The public needs to be educated on the format and rewarded with exciting and well-presented races.