They said it never rains in Perth in the summer. But the Telstra communications people were hopping on the morning of the second day as heats were marred by rain and spectators and media were soundly soused, telephones and all.
The Chinese were once again the subject of criticism as they appeared to make a mockery of the sport; Ying Shan, ranked number four in the world in the women's 200 freestyle, sandbagged her heat swim to finish in 2:09.11, needless to say ridiculously far off her National Games performance of 1:59.43 in October. Teammate Luna Wang, ranked second in the world with a 1:57.32, also failed to make the final after posting 2:01.77.
Breaststrokers Wei Wang and Yi Zhang, ranked third and fourth in the world in the 100 breaststroke, managed no better than 29th and 16th place respectively. On the men's side, Guoming Xiong was expected to be a contender in the 400 IM after posting 4:19.03 at the National Games in October. But his 4:28.72 was hardly A final material. Such erratic variations in performance were to continue and were reminiscent of Atlanta; while some theorized that it was China's way of getting out of the hotseat, and hence avoiding any drug testing, the growth hormone seizure raised questions as to whether the poor performances were not due to withdrawal symptoms as the athletes were denied their normal dose.
Finally, Canada had its first glimpse of a spot on the podium when a gutsy morning swim by Curtis Myden in the 400 IM (4:18.70) put him in second place, the perfect spot from which to dispute the final. Italy had less to shout about when their men's 4x200 relay was disqualified.
The race for the gold was never in doubt, as Claudia Poll (CRC) took the lead from the first stroke and was never challenged. By the 150 she had a full body length lead and finished first with 1:58.90.
"This gold medal was the only thing missing," Poll said, "so I am pretty happy and hope to do the same tomorrow (in the 400 free)."
After an Olympic gold in this event, and two short course world titles last year, Poll has done it all. Asked what her plans were for 1998 she said, "I am starting in March with the World Cup (Brazil, Italy, Sweden and France)... and we'll have the Goodwill Games as a focus this year."
The race was really for second. At the 100 Susie O'Neill (AUS) was in second with Julia Greville (AUS) and Kerstin Kielgass (GER) close behind.
On the last length Slovakia's Martina Moravcova again produced her strong finishing kick to touch second in a personal best of 1:59.61. "It was awesome," Moravcova said, smiling. "I didn't know (I was second) because I couldn't see the other side of the pool, so I was just competing with the two people beside me."
Moravcova admitted that the lead-up to the race had left a little to be desired: "You can probably smell the fish I had for lunch! My stomach has been a little upset but otherwise I was confident."
Greville also went under the two minute barrier for the bronze with a time of 1:59.92. "In the last 50 metres I spilled my guts too much and ran out of puff," Greville said. "I'm aiming at the Commonwealth record (1:59.74) and I should have got that. But I know I will get better now that I've broken two minutes."
It was a hot field, and the stage was set for a tough race. Defending world champion Tom Dolan (USA) was in third after the heats.
Australia's Matthew Dunn uncharacteristically went to the front in the butterfly leg and led his opponents through the first 100 under world-record pace (57.79). Longtime rival Curtis Myden (CAN) was not about to let him get away and followed closely in 58.42, in second at this stage of the race, followed by Dolan 58.54 and European champion Marcel Wouda 58.74, both pacing themselves well.
Dunn fizzled out in the backstroke however, and Dolan moved to the front to hit the 200 in 2:02.31, more than half a second ahead of his own world-record split (2:02.90). Myden held on to second (2:04.73) with Dunn (2:04.85) in third. Wouda (2:04.88) was right with him as they turned into the breaststroke.
Dolan powered through the breaststroke gaining a body length lead (3:15.16) while Wouda recovered from a lagging backstroke leg to move into second (3:16.73). Myden was still holding off Dunn, turning in 3:17.13 to Dunn's 3:17.83.
Showing great determination, Dolan fought off a persistently pushing Wouda, to win his second consecutive world title in this event in 4:14.95. "I'm ecstatic with my gold. I did what I wanted to do...win another world title."
"This was a big pride race for me," he went on. "Some people doubted me after I finished last year ranked fourth in the world. But this sets me up as the world's best all-round swimmer and I'm not ready to give that title up."
The 22-year-old Dolan has dealt with severe asthma for many years and admitted that this event was a real challenge. "The asthma was real bad in Atlanta, it was a real struggle to get through that race (400 IM). Then I had a lot of problems last year. But I think the asthma has made me mentally tougher in the long run just because of what I have to deal with every day in training. I had to dig deep inside during those last fifteen metres tonight, but once I'm ahead, no one's going to beat me," he smiled.
Wouda took silver with a 4:15.53, while Canada's Myden clinched the bronze in 4:16.45. "I'm hurting," said a wincing Wouda. "I haven't been very well in camp before coming here so I was lacking a little confidence coming to Perth. But I've been getting a little better every day, although it was barely enough. I could hardly finish."
Myden was happy with his performance: "It was tough...but I'm so glad to get a medal. When I was coming out of the last turn I knew Matt was coming up and I pushed as hard as I could."
The closest race of the championships had top qualifier Samantha Riley (AUS) in the lead throughout the first length, splitting 31.90 at the 50. She was challenged by a hyped up Kristy Kowal (USA) who moved into the lead at the 60-m mark. The battle for second was between Riley, Agnes Kovacs (HUN), and Helen Denman (AUS).
Denman charged ahead and almost caught Kowal, with a surprising Lauren Van Oosten (CAN) touching in third. She had qualified in lane eight in the morning.
It was a perfectly staged upset, with the three expected contenders, Kovacs, Olympic champion Penny Heyns (RSA) and Riley, finishing out of the medals altogether in fourth, fifth, and sixth respectively. Only 4/10ths separated the top six finishers.
Kowal's winning time was 1:08.42. Denman was second with 1:08.51 and British Columbia native van Oosten took the bronze with 1:08.66. A second medal for Canada, and a new national record. The other medallists also posted personal bests.
"No one knew who I was when I came here," Kowal said. "I used that to my advantage tonight. I'm feeling sheer and utter joy. This is the absolute highlight of my life-it is a personal best, it is a gold medal, it is everything."
Silver medal winner Denman said, "I can't believe it. I felt very strong in the first 50 metres, but I didn't know what position I was in at the turn (32.40) because I don't wear goggles, but I felt very comfortable.
"It feels great," van Oosten said. "This morning I was kind of looking at all the people and watching what they were doing, but it didn't throw me off. Tonight I just thought if I could be with them at the 25, I could be top five. This is a real bonus. It was hard to tell where I was because I couldn't see the other side of the pool, but we just had Curtis Myden (bronze medal winner in the 400 IM) win a medal and that was great."
The crowd was treated to some of the best freestyle swimming in many years, with the Australian team establishing themselves as their country's best relay team for a long time.
With Michael Klim leading off, the Aussies led from the outset, getting another great boost on the third leg from a revved up Ian Thorpe. Dan Kowalski held that lead and touched for the gold—Australia's first at a world championships in this event. Given the relative youth of the team, with Grant Hackett 17 and Thorpe just a few months past his fifteenth birthday, this team has enormous potential. "It was awesome winning that," said an elated Thorpe. "To swim so well is an incredible feeling in front of all these people." It was Klim's second gold of the championships.The splits for the Aussies were: Michael Klim 1:47.67 Grant Hackett 3:36.08 1:48.41 Ian Thorpe 5:23.75 1:47.67 Daniel Kowalski 7:12.48 1:48.73
The Netherlands had a great effort, with Marcel Wouda, just off his 400 IM swim, as anchor (1:48.06). They won the silver in 7:16.77; after a seventh place finish at the Olympics, they have made great strides. Great Britain took the bronze in 7:17.33. They were the first such relay medals for both countries at the world championships.
The USA team gambled by putting Tom Dolan (also just off his 400 IM win) in the anchor position—and lost. Dolan could only manage a 1:53.29 split, and the USA finished out of the medals for the second consecutive world championships.