Rome 2009, Day 6
Women's 100m freestyle
Britta Steffen (GER) and her Hydrofoil demolished the world record in 52.07, off a 25.46 split. The silver went to Fran Halsall (GBR) in a bombastic 52.87, with Libby Trickett (AUS), on 52.93.
The splits compared:
Trickett had held the world record at 52.88 until last month, when Steffen cracked out a 52.85 in heats at German trials wearing the Hydrofoil for the first time. In the final three days later (an odd programme was observed for TV purposes), Steffen sped to a 52.54. Then leading off the relay in Rome on Sunday she clocked 52.22.
Trickett has been below 53 upteen times. Now Steffen is challenging the 52 mark and a 19-year-old from Liverpool has become only the third woman ever to race inside 53sec. Halsall's 52.87 British record drove a wedge between the two women who had paved the way to a new era of speed in the pool. Trickett, in her Speedo LZR from last year, had held the world record at 52.88 until last month's launch of the Hydrofoil.
After acknowledging that the suit had played a significant role in the time on the scoreboard, Steffen said: "I'm so happy because this is the one medal that I didn't have - a world title," said Steffen. "I was so nervous at the start and then I was superfast." So was her suit. The real race starts again from next year, when we can start write about swimming once more."
Halsall was in hysterics about her part in the fastest sprint race in history. After realising that she had beaten Trickett, Olympic medallist behind Steffen last year, Halsall said: "I finished and I couldn't stop giggling, I couldn't believe it, it was fantastic. It was an amazing race to be in.
Nothing like swimming through a timewarp. Where Trickett has raced below 53 eight times, Steffen has now done so five times, all in a Hydrofoil launched a little over a month ago and most certainly not available to all. But then neither was the LZR last year, as any German will, accurately, tell you.
The German sprinter's time is an aberration even in these abhorrent times: Trickett in an X-Glide in the relay is the closest to Steffen's 52.07. But even that is 0.55sec away. The gap to a LZR-clad 52.84 for Trickett and a Jaked 52.87 for young Halsall is astonishing. Peaks along the way of history include Dutch sprinter Inge de Bruijn's first sub-54sec effort and before that the even bigger leap of a 54.01 by Le Jingyi (CHN) here at the Foro Italico in Rome, complete with back muscles fit to mix concrete.
Halsall is 1.14sec faster than Le. Her Jaked suit was significant to the result. But expect to see more of her. She emerged from her race to say that she was ready to become the "fastest swimmer in the world" in time for London 2012. "I knew last year was a bit too soon for me at the Olympics because I wasn't doing as much in the gym. This year I've been hammering it. I'm getting a little bit bigger and hopefully it will come and in a couple of years I'll be the fastest swimmer in the world."
Long before then, she, along with Steffen and Trickett, will face that 53sec barrier once more: no woman has recorded an official time below 53sec in a textile suit, the only swim of that speed discounted because Trickett raced in a lane next to Michael Phelps in a fun, mixed relay at the Australia V USA Duel-In-The-Pool in 2007.
No wonder. Here's how things stack up with a nod to Melbourne and the world rankings:
Within a year, Speedo had launched the first race suit to use non-textile fabrics. A combination of polyurethane panels and compression factors that support tired muscles and reduce fatigue at the end of races proved lethal for the world record books: 171 global standards have fallen since February 2008.
The all-time top 10 now has seven swims from Rome 2009, as highlighted in bold:
Coming out of Melbourne 2007, when Steffen held the world record at 53.30, just eight women had broke 54sec, and Jodie Henry's Olympic win from 2004 stood solid at 4th best ever 0.25sec away from the German's standard. Le's 54.01 was hanging on to a place in the top 10 after 13 years. Now, Henry is 12th best and 1.45sec off the pace. Le is 27th and 26 women have cracked 54.