Rome 2009, Day 6
Men's 200m backstroke
Aaron Peirsol (USA) and his X-Glide slid to a world record of 1:51.92 to recapture the 200m backstroke crown that he lost to teammate Ryan Lochte in 2007. The defending champ reached the podium in 1:53.82 but had to settle for bronze behind Ryosuke Irie (JPN), also inside previous record pace, on 1:52.51.
Peirsol, 2004 Olympic champion, set a world record of 1:53.08 at US trials last month.
The splits compared:
And there's the answer: first half almost identical, a little quicker in Rome. Second half, vastly better, with homecoming last 50s of 28.40 and 28.62, compared with Irie's 29.02 followed by a 27.88. Those splits stand out as extraordinary and tally with what happened with Paul Biedermann and others who have X-Glided home to massive improvements to the back end of their races. recall Melbourne 2007, when Lochte won the 200m. He won it with a hard homecoming. His last length split on the way to a 1:54.32 world record a 29.27. Almost all of the 2009 gain on Lochte's 2007 best is the back end.
Good to note that the backstroke crew, for the most part, wore leggings. But they are leggings that help anchor, help support , help buoy. They are part of the leap, part of the result.
Markus Rogan's bronze in Melbourne 2007 for Austria would have placed him 7th in Rome.
Irie was disappointed with his showing: "I'm not completely satisfied with my performance. I realise that Peirsol is a great swimmer but I expect to do better."
Irie had actually notched the fastest time ever swum with a 1:52.86 in Canberra at the AUS v JPN duel in May. It wasn't ratified as a record because he wore an unapproved suit, the Descente Aquaforce. The one he had on tonight wasn't all that different.
Peirsol in his X-Glide skipped the 1:52 and went faster that Mark Spitz ever swam on freestyle.
The suit was truly significant, though Peirsol is keeping his mind open to textile possibilities: "My 200, I've been struggling to get faster for a few years now and kind of when it rains it pours. You've got to put some of it up to the suits, I don't know how I can relate to what I wore tonight versus what I did 1:54 in last year. I've known I can go 1:51 for a long time, that's the way I've trained." Training for an doing and different things of course, and 2010 will tell us more about where everyone is on their spectrum of targets.
Having missed the 100m cut through a suit-induced miscalculation, Peirsol looked like a man on a mission from the go in the 200m . He took an early lead that he relinquished by a narrow margin at the 100m mark to Lochte before pouring it on in the final 100 to seize the crown. "I wanted to win this," Peirsol said. "I saw that I pulled out at the beginning, and when I saw that I was pulling away that was like an extra fire in the belly to keep going.
"That was a fast heat, I don't know if I would have done that if I didn't have to."
Peirsol said his failure in the 100m backstroke may have helped him, since it gave him some extra time off. "That was not a piece of cake, but I think I was more rested than everyone else. That was kind of a blessing in disguise," he said.
"I didn't get the chance to do the 100, obviously, in the week and a lot of my focus has been on this - all of it has."
Irie broke down in tears on the podium and later explained that he had his mind set on gold and a silver was not what he'd come here for. "I wanted to win but I came second. I'm very disappointed but I got my PB and I won a medal so I'm relieved," he said.
"I wanted to see the Japanese flag in the middle on the medal rostrum and it was such a shame not to see it there, that and the end of the race made me cry. In my next race I want to race Peirsol and Lochte again and this time I want to win. From 50m to 100m Peirsol went very hard and I thought about swimming hard like him but then I thought I don't want to lose my head so I kept my strength for the last 50m. But maybe that wasn't the best thing to do."