European Championships, Debrecen, Hungary, day 3 finals:
The chances of Italy taking the 1500m freestyle crown were strong but the title went to the man you might not have put your money on: Gregorio Paltrinieri, in his 18th year and celebrating his first international senior crown and sub-15 minute swim. He was well inside: 14:48.92 for the European trophy.
The session witnessed at least the hint of a changing of the guard: Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) took down the Olympic champion Britta Steffen (GER) in their first direct clash, 53.61 to 54.15, in the 100m free final.
Laszlo Cseh raised the loudest cheer of the day when he retained the 200m medley crown in a championships record of 1:56.66, second in the world so far this year behind Olympic champion Michael "The Alien" (as Cseh dubbed the 14-gold-medal winning American in 2008 when finishing second to him three times) Phelps, on 1:56.32 at the US Grand Prix in March.
But the day belonged to the breakthrough of an Italian teenager. A measure of the swim: Paltrinieri's time is faster than that in which Australian distance legend Kieren Perkins won his second gold in back in 1996, as fast as as the pace in which another Aussie legend, Grant Hackett, won his first gold back in 2000, almost as fast as the 2009 Italian record held by Federico Colbertaldo and faster than any Italian has ever swum 30 long-course laps in a textile suit.
Colbertaldo clocked 14:48.28 at Rome 2009 world titles, while the ranks of Italian best swims did not include any other sub-14:50 swim until today.
In textile, Patrinieri became the 12th member, all-time, of the sub-14:50 club. Two club members are aheads of him on the world rankings this season: world champion and record holder Sun Yang (CHN), on 14:42.30, and Olympic 400m champion Park Tae-Hwan (KOR), on 14:47.38.
Coached by Gabriel Bonazzi, Paltrinieri arrived in Debrecen with a best of 15:02.00, clocked at a meet last month after a lifetime best of 15:04.57 at Italian nationals last December, that effort just inside the 15:04.90 he clocked in Rome last June.
"My idol is Ian Thorpe," said Paltinieri when he qualified for world senior titles last year with that 15:04 effort. "It would be great if I get to meet him at the next Olympics." That may now depend on whether Thorpe gets down to the mixed zone from the broadcast seats to meet Paltrinieri. At least one big Italian name and sub-15min swimmer will not race over 30 laps at London 2012.
The hosts in Debrecen today were taken by surprise, the minor spoils going to Gergo Kis and Gergely Gyturta in 14:58.15 and 15:04.38, with the champion's more experienced teammate Samuel Pizzetti locked out in 15:09.83.
Paltrinieri made his mark not only by swimming fast as a junior but by shaving his head in a way that left tufts of sci-fi-looking hair flying out in an arrow shape as he raced to a 15:22.03 finish in the heats at world titles in Shanghai last year. Today, he took the lead by the 150m turn and had established a 3sec lead by the 500m mark. He was 6sec clear of Kis at 1000m and 1200m but 8sec clear by the 1300m mark.
The winning splits:
58.08; 1:58.06; 2:57.66; 3:57.13; 4:56.83; 5:56.26; 6:55.51; 7:54.75; 8:53.89; 9:53.44; 10:52.60; 11:51.94; 12:51.39; 13:50.53; 14:48.92.
In Other Finals:
Women's 100m freestyle
Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) and Olympic champion Britta Steffen (GER) had never raced in the same pool at the same time before. In their first clash, the Swedish teenager coached by Carl Jenner in Stockholm clocked 53.61, to Steffen's 54.15, to add European gold and a big scalp to a growing list of freestyle trophies on a learning curve that includes the second-best effort ever in a textile suit (53.05 last December).
Steffen has a mean return, the kind of homecoming lap that earned her the Olympic crown in 2008, the world title in 2009 and her first world record back in 2006 (53.30). However, it was Sjostrom who had the best homecoming strength in the final, with the half-way leader Daniela Schreiber (GER) taking bronze in 54.41.
No others in the final broke 55sec.
Men's 200m medley
Cseh was pressed to his 1:56.66 championship record by Britain's James Goddard, on 1:57.84 by the end but a hand ahead of the Hungarian at the half-way mark.
Impossible to compare precisely where the two men are in their preparations for London 2012 but suffice it to say that there is edge in the Cseh Vs Goddard clash, the Hungarian pipping the Brit for bronze behind the mighty Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps show at world titles last year.
The bronze in Debrecen went to Austrian Markus Rogan in 1:59.39. Goddard's effort was swifter than the time in which he qualified for a home Olympic Games in March.
Men's 200m freestyle
Paul Biedermann (GER) dominated the race, taking the lead before the second turn, the clock on 52.03 at the 100m on his way to a 1:46.27 victory, the time the 6th best in the world so far this year.
The minor spoils went to Amaury Leveaux (FRA), on 1:47.69, and Dominik Kozma (HUN), on 1:47.72, those two having swum stroke for stroke the whole way to lock Tim Wallburger (GER) off the podium in 1:47.75.
Women's 100m breaststroke
Sarah Poewe gave Germany the gold in 1:07.33, the podium completed by Jennie Johansson (SWE) in 1:07.85 and Marina Garcia (ESP, on 1:07.91. Leader at the half-way mark, Caroline Ruhnau (GER) was locked out in 1:07.95.
World champion Daniel Gyurta (HUN) claimed lane 4 for the 200m breaststroke final with a 2:10.06 effort in the first semi before watching Marco Koch (GER) ease into lane 5 beside him with a 2:10.92 win in the second semi ahead of heats bolter Panagiotis Samilidis (GRE), on 2:11.53.
In the women's 200m medley, Katinka Hosszu set up another loud cheer for the hosts with a 2:11.89 swim for lane 4 tomorrow, Stina Gardell (SWE), on 2:12.29, and Evelyn Verraszto (HUN), on 2:12.67, either side of her. Gardell's time established a new Swedish record inside the 2:13.52 she clocked in heats at world titles in Shanghai last year.
Bence Biczo (HUN) set the pace in the 200m butterfly semis with a 1:55.77 win in the second line-up, the time 7th in the world so far this year. Either side of him in the final will be Velimir Stjepanovic (SRB), on 1:56.84, and Dinko Jukic (AUT), on 1:57.02.
Daryna Zevina (UKR) led the way into the 100m backstroke final on 1:00.45 in the second semi, with Alexianne Castel, French winner of the 200m crown yesterday, on 1:00.48 in the first semi. Arianna Barbieri, who set an Italian record of 1:00.29 in heats, clocked 1:00.52 to progress to the final in third place, with Duane Da Rocha (ESP), Jenny Mensing (GER) and Simona Baumrtova (CZE) also inside 1:01.
The session closed with Jonatan Kopelev (ISR) taking lane 4 for the non-Olympic backstroke dash final in 24.98, all other qualifiers inside 24.40.