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W200 Free: Pellegrini A Pioneer Once More

Jul 27, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 4 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai

Women's 200m freestyle

Federica Pellegrini (ITA) became the first woman in history to retain the 200m title. There were some scary moments for the Olympic champion on her way to a 1:55.58 victory over  Kylie Palmer (AUS), 1:56.04, and Camille Muffat (FRA), 1:56.10, an effort that locked out former 100m butterfly champion Sarah Sjoestrom (SWE), on 1:56.41. 

The cause of the scare was Femke Heemskerk (NED), who, if she ever learns to pace the 200m correctly could be a lethal force. A body length ahead of the Italian at the 100m mark, she remained in the lead at the last turn, on 1:25.51, 0.67sec ahead of Pellegrini.

When pressure mounted off the turn, it became apparent by 30m out that Heemskerk was going to struggle. And she did, fading to 1:57.63 for seventh. There could well be a much better and faster moment ahead for the Dutch sprinter.  

Coached by former mentor to Laure Manaudou, Philippe Lucas, Pellegrini's time was 0.06sec outside that which swept the French 2004 Olympic 400m champion to victory in a world record in Melbourne back in 2007, when Pellegrini took bronze after semis in which the Italian ended the 13-year world-record reign of Germany's Franziska Van Almsick.

Pellegrini, a pioneer at home in Rome as she and her shiny suit became the first woman in a booster suit to dip below 4mins over 400m freestyle and set a world mark of 1:52.98 over 200m, not only became the first to retain the four-lap crown since the championships began in 1973 but is the first to retain the 200m and 400m crowns, the double of Rome repeated here in Shanghai.

The feat has been achieved before in swimming: by Ian Thorpe (AUS), 2001 to 2003, while among women the 200-400m double had been achieved three times before: the first two a throw back to the days of cold war and a doped East German squad - Shirley Babashoff (USA) in 1975; Heike Friedrich (GDR) in 1986; and then Manaudou in 2007.

"I'm very happy and very proud of the gold medal," said Pellegrini. "My coach (Philippe Lucas) is great and very important for me to win the gold medal and I am improving (and) my goal is the London Olympics."

Palmer, who turned at the last wall in seventh, zapped past rivals on the way home but could not catch the determined Italian. 

"You've just got to always believe in yourself. It's great to be a part of history," said Pellegrini. "This was my race, and nobody was going to enter my house."

The Australian's take: "I am so happy with it. I am almost crying, because it is so tough. I did not know I fell so far behind during the race ... I am pretty excited."

The result:

  • 1. Federica Pellegrini, Italy, 1:55.58.
  • 2. Kylie Palmer, Australia, 1:56.04. 
  • 3. Camille Muffat, France, 1:56.10. 
  • 4. Sarah Sjoestroem, Sweden, 1:56.41. 
  • 5. Bronte Barratt, Australia, 1:56.60. 
  • 6. Allison Schmitt, United States, 1:56.98. 
  • 7. Femke Heemserk, Netherlands, 1:57.63. 
  • 8. Silke Lippok, Germany 1:58.26.

The splits compared:

  • 2007: 27.13; 56.24; 1:25.69; 1:55.52 Laure Manaudou (FRA) Melbourne
  • 2009: 27.34; 55.60; 1:24.38; 1:52.98 Federica Pellegrini (ITA) Rome 
  • 2011: 27.62; 57.04; 1:26.18; 1:55.58 Federica Pellegrini (ITA) Shanghai

History in the making:


  • WR (all suits): 1:52.98 Federica Pellegrini (ITA) Rome, July 29, 2009
  • WR (textile):   1:54.97 Sara Isakovic (SLO) Beijing 2008 [1:54.82 Federica Pellegrini (ITA), two suits worn, Beijing 2008]
  • First woman inside 2:00: Kornelia Ender (GDR)* 1:59.78, Berlin June 2, 1976 
  • First woman inside 1:57: Franziska Van Almsick (GER)  1:56.78, Rome, September 6, 1994  
  • First woman inside 1:56: Laure Manaudou (FRA) 1:55.52, Melbourne, March 28, 2007
  • First woman inside 1:55: see textile world record from Beijing 2008 Olympic final, Pellegrini gold, Isakovic silver
  • * - GDR athletes were systematically doped under State Plan 14:25

World-class stats:

  • World Record wins: Cynthia Woodhead (USA) 1978; Franziska Van Almsick (GER) 1994; Laure Manaudou (FRA), 2007
  • Title never retained
  • Biggest margin: Pellegrini beat Allison Schmitt (USA) by 1.98sec in 2009
  • Closest shave: Van Almsick beat Lu Bin* (CHN) by 0.11sec in 1994
  • *- subsequently suspended for doping

From the archive:

At the 1992 Olympic Games Franziska van Almsick, then 14, won two silver and two bronze medals and the sponsorship millions poured in. Her pathway to a 200m freestyle world title race in Rome 1994 made history: 9th in the heats, Van Almsick relied on German teammate Dagmar Hase to withdraw in return for a luxury holiday. In the final, Van Almsick, in lane 8, swam close to technical perfection and stopped the clock with her fist in a world record of 1:56.78, 0.09sec ahead Lu Bin (CHN), who would later test positive for steroids.

Laure Manaudou (FRA), now on the comeback trail but not ready to race for France this summer, led a transformation in the 200m at the Melbourne 2007 world titles. After Federica Pellegrini (ITA) ended Franziska Van Almsick's 13-year-reign as world record holder in the semi finals, Manaudou claimed the crown in a world record of 1:55.52, the last woman home in the final on 2:01.53. In Rome 2009, non-textile suits helped transformed speed dramatically, Pellegrini the champion in a world mark of 1:52.98 ahead of Allison Schmitt (USA), on 1:54.96, while 1:57.50 closed the final.