Rome 2009, Day 3
Men's 800m freestyle heats:
Oussama Mellouli (TUN) was scarcely out of breath when he and his X-Glide emerged from the heats of the 800m freestyle brandishing the third-fastest time ever, a 7:41.82. The Olympic champion's previous best was the 7:49.02 from the Janet Evans Intl in June last year as he warmed up for the big moment in Beijing.
Mellouli won the 800m freestyle world title in a time over 7:50 in 2007 but had his crown taken away from him after he took a stimulant and tested positive. The incident dated back to December 2006, and Mellouli fell on the mercy of the court by explaining that he had taken the substance to stay awake for college exam work in the US.
Instead of a two-year-ban he served 18 months, allowing him to return from the wilderness in time to spring a surprise on Grant Hackett in Beijing and stop the Australian from becoming the first man ever to win the same Olympic title at three Games.
In Rome, Mellouli has already won silver in the 400m freestyle in a time ahead of Hackett's best ever. The 800m and 1,500m freestyle world records are two of only three now left standing from a time before non-textile fabrics were allowed in suits, since February 2008. The other mark is the women's 1,500m freestyle, expected to fall this evening.
Mellouli looks good to take down both of Hackett's standards. If he does, swimming will surely be at Ground Zero. Time to start again from January 1, 2010. Over 800m, the two times ahead of the African belong to Hackett, on 7:38.65, and Thorpe, on 7:39.16.
Mellouli was not alone in the fast lane in 800m heats. National records from Ryan Cochrane (CAN), 7:43.61, Federico Colbertaldo (ITA), 7:44.29, and David Davies (GBR) 7:45.89, sent them leap-frogging over Kieren Perkins and Larsen Jensen for 4th, 5th and 6th best-ever rankings. Next through in Rome, Yuri Prilukov (RUS), in a national record of 7:46.05, and Zhang Lin (CHN), in his LZR and a hand from best, on 7:48.75.
Mellouli has suggested that all of this is what we would expect. No, it is not. And if and when he and his plastic fantastic fly past Hackett on the clock, he might have the courtesy to acknowledge the artificial aid on his skin, like so many, such as Beidermann and Steffen and others have already done.
And from the ark: