Rome 2009, Day 5
Women's 200m butterfly final
Liu Zige, Olympic champion from China raced a sensational 1.35sec and then 1.36sec inside world record pace at the 50m and 100m mark in the 200m butterfly final and led the way still into the last turn but Jessica Schipper (AUS) wanted to keep her world title. So she donned an adidas Hydrofoil to make sure she was up to the Jaked and on the way home to gold looked like she was just about as fresh as she had been on the way out.
Schipper took the crown in a world record of 2:03.41, inside the 2:04.14 set by Mary Descenza (USA) in heats. Zige also held on to get inside the 2:04 mark, on 2:03.90, with the bronze going to Katinka Hosszu (HUN), in 2:04.28, locking Descenza out by 0.13sec.
The race marked the 26th world record of the championships, one more global mark than swimmers set in Beijing last year as the LZR put the sport on a fast-forward and paved the way to suit wars and the circus we are witnessing here at the Foro Italico.
Where Zige led until 20 metres out from home, Schipper turned 4th at the first and second turns and pulled up to 2nd place 0.65sec shy of Zige by the last turn. The race was a perfect example of why swimming has become an impossible sport to follow with honesty in your heart. Take away the suit and this is what you could say: Schipper swam a fabulously well-timed and controlled race. It was classic, textbook, no-panic, self-focus approach to gunning for gold.
Slower out that she had tried to go in Beijing last year and much faster back. Look at the 50s on the clock: 28.21; 32.04; 31.98; 31.18. Back and front ends the fastest by a significant amount. An split as good as the third length on the way home would have constituted a great swim but Schipper just kept roller and getting faster, it seemed. There was hardly any breakdown in stroke down the last length. So what was that down to? Hard work, pure preparation, race strategy, etc? All of that may be true but how much did the suit make sure that Schipper - as well as all the others in the race to one degree or another - felt quite so great down the last length.
There is no answer. The best we can say is: well done Jess and the other winners, now roll on 2010.
The splits compared:
After the Beijing Olympic Games, Schipper left her childhood coach Ken Wood, who had been helping Liu Zige get to a place fast enough to beat his pupil.
Schipper switched to Brisbane coach Stephan Widmer and changed her life in other ways. At 22, she bought a house and moved out of her childhood home and away from the triplet brothers who had helped to make her a tough kid. Speedo backed out. Big deal. The likeable Schipper turned to adidas in time to benefit from a suit that no-one knew about back then, the Hydrofoil.
The biggest gain for the defending world champion and Olympic bronze medallist was finding her own way in life. "Especially compared with last year, I am a lot more confident in my swimming and I am happier. I definitely knew that after the Olympics I couldn't go back to Ken, that I had to make that move. "It wasn't exciting any more. A lot of people came and went [from Wood's squad] and it was getting a bit old and I needed something new. I was speaking to Libby at the Olympics and she was of the same mind as me. She felt she needed a change."
The hardest part was to find a new swimming home. "Stephan was always in my mind because I needed help with my underwater kick and my dive and he's known for that," said Schipper, who in moving from Wood to Widmer followed in the footsteps of Leisel Jones.
Swiss-born Widmer, as he did with Jones and Lenton, encourages his charges to work on developing their personalities and finding themselves in life out of the water just as much as focussing on the work in the pool.
"They are human beings first,'' he told reporters. "Every day all I promise them is that they will feel pain and they have to be able to smile and take it. But I can see that she's feeling good about herself.''
In the media conference on the other side of the fence was 2004 Olympic champion and long-time rival Otylia Jedrzejczak, a commentator for Polish TV here in Rome while taking a break from swimming in a season of suit madness before making a comeback next year. Meantime, she was seeking tip from Schipper on moving coaches because she too will return home to a decision about where to base herself for the next chapter of her life as a a swimmer who wants more control over what she does.
"Jessicah doesn't have a lot of outward confidence but she has made this change and it has worked wonders,'' Jedrzejczak told reporters. "I am so happy for her, because we have raced together so much and I like her so much.''
Schipper acknowledged the gains to be had from donning the plastic fantastic. Eventually, she may one day reach down below 2:04 once more. Uncertain. But one thing she was sure of: "I think it's going to hurt a lot more,'' she said.