After the seemingly endless doping drabble of the previous week had held the attention of most for all it was worth, it was time to "get down to some sport," as one huffed official put it.
A number of big guns were shut out of the finals in the morning, particularly in the men's breaststroke; Norbert Rosza of Hungary, two-time and defending world champion in the event was obviously at the end of his rope, not even close to the action with a 1:03.3 (17th). European champion Alexander Goukov was relegated to the B final, as was Russian Andrei Korneev. American Josh Davis went into the 200 freestyle ranked number two in the world, but his morning swim of 1:50.65 was only good enough for 11th; butterfly specialist Tom Malchow took Davis's place in the final with a 1:49.54. And at rock bottom, Germany's Jšrg Hoffmann, who opted out of the 1500 free to concentrate on the shorter events, was disqualified for an intentional false start.
Amy van Dyken (USA) took the early lead, having just squeaked into the final in 8th place. Germany's Sandra Všlker was first to the wall in 26.24, followed by van Dyken in 26.32.
On the second length American Jenny Thompson moved into the lead after turning third in 26.54, and held off a fast-closing Martina Moravcova (SVK). Thompson's winning time was 54.95. Moravcova took second with a personal best of 55.09. Ying Shan of the controversial Chinese team only managed third in 55.10, well off her 54.49 best from last year.
It has been a terrific comeback for 24-year-old Thompson, who missed out on individual swims at the 1994 Worlds and the 1996 Olympics, qualifying only for the American relays. She is now reigning world champion for the distance both long and short course. "My time wasn't quite what I wanted," she said, "but what I really wanted was the gold, so I'm ecstatic. It's just one step closer to winning gold in 2000."
Moravcova had a very successful 1997 with four golds at the World University Games and silver at the European Championships in the same event. She was only sixth at the 50 with a 26.95 split, but gradually closed the gap on all but the winner. "I wasn't expecting anything tonight," Moravcova said. "I just wanted to go fast into the wall, and I did my best. I am happy. This is only my first of four races at these championships."
After being practically invisible for most of 1997, Olympic champion and world record-holder Fred deBurghgraeve (BEL) appeared to be back, churning out a commanding morning swim of 1:01.99.
In the final, Karoly Guttler, silver medallist in Atlanta in the 200 breaststroke, led by a head at 25 m, but it was the Belgian who turned first in 28.97, 75/100 seconds short of his own world record split.
Australian Philip Rogers was next to turn, just 3/100 of a second behind deBurghgraeve. Qiliang Zeng (CHN) reached the 50 in 29.07.
Reminiscent of Atlanta with his shaved head and closed-eye concentration, deBurghgraeve was pushed by the trio of Guttler (29.16), Domenico Fioravanti of Italy (29.17), and Mark Warnecke of Germany (29.18), but held his technique and surged forward. He came into the wall a clear winner in 1:01.34, well off his best, but top of the field when it counted. Zeng, a finalist in Atlanta, clocked an impressive 1:01.76 for the silver. Kurt Grote (USA), number one ranked in the world last year, took the bronze in 1:01.93 to edge out Rogers by 8/100 of a second.
A relieved deBurghgraeve said after the event, "I trained as hard and as much as before Atlanta, but I wasn't as motivated. My life changed so much (after Atlanta) and it was much harder for me to concentrate on the competition."
A difficult post-Olympic year, during which deBurghgraeve's hyper-notoriety in Belgium sapped his drive to train almost completely, led him to pass on last summer's European championships. And yet the solitary swimmer, who communicates by fax and telephone with his coach, Ronald Gaastra, managed to pull it together for the big one, becoming Belgium's first world champion. Bronze medallist Grote was a gracious runner-up, saying, "That went exactly how I planned it and I am really happy because it was my first medal at a world championships. I just want to go and celebrate with my Dad, if I can find him."
Yanyan Wu of China took the lead and held it for the first 300 metres. At the 200 her teammate, number one ranked Yan Chen, was battling for second with Yana Klochkova (UKR), with Japan's Yasuko Tajima vying for a spot.
On the final 100 metres Wu faded out of contention while Chen held a commanding lead. Fifteen-year-old Klochkova had a good view of the pool from Lane 1 and moved into second place, with Tajima closing in for third.
As expected, Chen took the gold with a 4:36.66. Klochkova was second with 4:38.60, a personal best by over four seconds. Tajima moved into third with 4:39.45, her second PB and Japanese record of the day. Both swims made it onto the All Time top 25 list. Wu finished just out of the medals in fourth (4:40.16).
Regarding her time, Chen commented afterward, "It is only two months after our National Games, and since we came here we were affected by the incident (seizure of drugs in Sydney). Also the weather was too hot, and the bus was not on time, so we were affected. But I won the gold medal and I'm very happy with that."The splits: 100 200 300 400 Yan Chen, CHN 1:04.00 2:13.03 3:34.13 4:36.66 Yana Klochkova, UKR 1:04.29 2:15.37 3:34.98 4:38.60 Yasuko Tajima, JPN 1:05.07 2:14.78 3:36.83 4:39.45 Yanyan Wu, CHN 1:03.15 2:12.29 3:33.46 4:40.16
It was the race everyone had been waiting for as 20-year-old Michael Klim of Australia attacked the first of his ambitious seven-event program in Perth. Klim had gone into the 200 in Atlanta ranked number one in the world, only to wind up a disappointing 10th. Barely two years later and once again the man to beat, he was determined to have a go at the world record. The crowd was vociferous in its support, and after a great start he went for it, leading the field through the 50 in 24.97, ahead of world record pace (25.14).
Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) was also ahead of world-record pace at the first turn in 24.99 and looked very strong. The Olympic silver medallist in this event, Brazilian Gustavo Borges, was next to turn in 25.51. Klim and van den Hoogenband swam stroke for stroke on the second lap, Klim 52.07 (WR split 52.42) keeping only marginally ahead of the Dutchman (52.11). Borges was still close in 52.95 and Massimiliano Rosolino (ITA) was moving up.
Klim pulled ahead strongly on the third lap and maintained his world-record pace (1:19.49) at the 150. Rosolino's 400 background came through as he moved into second place in 1:20.60, ahead of van den Hoogenband.
As the crowd roared, Klim powered home unthreatened, and despite a brilliant attempt, finished short of Giorgio Lamberti's 1989 record in 1:47.41, a personal best and his first world championship title.
Rosolino took the silver in 1:48.30, followed closely by van den Hoogenband in1:48.65.
A smiling Klim admitted afterward that most of the pressure for his first race had come from the overwhelming coverage in the press, and not from himself or his coaches. "I just basically wanted to do well on the first day and was concentrating on what I had to do. But every time I looked at the paper there was something..."
As for the difference between this race and Atlanta, Klim felt that his success was "because I've had a very successful year on the road." He added "I've raced over 130 times and had some very good training in varied locations. It was the combination of good racing and good training, and I think I've just found my measure."