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Paris World Cup

Pankratov, Closing in on Perfection, Adds Two More Butterfly Records

Karin Helmstaedt

PARIS - Denis Pankratov came to Paris with a world record in mind.
Over which distance, it didn't matter. And what had been until then a rather dull World Cup series - Jani Sievinen's world record 100 IM in Malmo (53.10) being the only real exploit - got a boost "à la Russe" in Paris with the long anticipated arrival of Pankratov and his compatriots.

With the exception of sprint "Tsar" Alexander Popov, who went on to compete in Imperia and Gelsenkirchen, the Russian team put in their first and only short course appearance of the season at the Paris World Cup. After a three-week training camp in Brest, they waltzed in, shaved down, and cleaned house. All told they won eleven gold medals, ahead of Australia's ten.

With the long course world records (100 and 200) already to his credit, Pankratov, the "extraterrestrial" butterflyer, proceeded to prove that he is, for the time being, untouchable in the stroke.

The crowd watched, amazed, each time he flew off the blocks and disappeared underwater, emerging 24 metres later, just in time to take one arm stroke before the turn. Given the length of his underwater kick-off at each subsequent turn (roughly 5 metres or more), it was clear that his technique and his conditioning are even closer to perfection. Believe it when he says he can do 75 metres underwater without stopping!

Two more fly records for Pankratov.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Massimo Lovati

In the 200, Pankratov's split of 53.26 left no doubt in anyone's mind that French hero Frank Esposito's world record of 1:53.05, set two years ago at the same meet, had only precious seconds to live. Esposito, swimming in lane 4, saw only the vague splashing of Pankratov's kick for most of the race. With his controlled and extremely streamlined stroke, Pankratov pulverized the old record and touched in 1:52.34. A visibly humbled Esposito finished second in 1:57.40. Half an hour later Pankratov won the 50 fly in 23.48, only 3/100 of a second off Mark Foster's world record.

The next day it was Canadian Marcel Gery's turn to bow out of the records. Pankratov got up, cool as usual, and wowed the crowd with another world record swim of 51.94. Just like that.

Incredible? Not really, according to Pankratov himself. With hardly a show of emotion, the undisputed star of the meet said, "I've only done short course what I did long course last summer." True enough. He admitted to having worked even harder on the underwater portion of his races, saying, "I'm most comfortable swimming that way." And then, "And I know that I can swim even faster."

Another triple winner was backstroker Vladimir Selkov (50, 100, 200), who along with teammate Sergei Ostaptchuk, was the only swimmer in the backstroke events to take full advantage of the 15 metres authorized underwater.

Popov, also very much at home in France, did what was expected of him, and with the usual class. A new meet record in the 100 freestyle (47.83), and a victory in the 50 (22.01). "I really need to compete right now," he said. Popov will join the team again for the Russian Olympic Trials, to be held in April in Moscow.

Russian women Nina Zhyvanevskaya and Natalia Mescheryakova (who married sprinter Vladimir Pychnenko last September) each had wins in the sprint backstrokes (50, 100) and freestyle (50) respectively.

Elli Overton of Australia continued her streak from Espoo and Malmo, winning all three individual medley events (100, 200, 400) once again. Other Aussie winners were Philip Rogers (100, 200 breast), Angela Kennedy (50, 100 fly), Helen Denham (50, 100 breast) and Dwade Sheehan (100 IM).

Danyon Loader clocked the fastest time in the world so far this year in the 200 free (1:45.51) and also won the 400 free in 3:42.41.

The only Canadians present in Paris this year were Nancy Sweetnam and Lisa Flood. The two women are currently training together in Florida under the tutelage of Lois Daignault and Nick Baker. Having just come off a week of triple workouts, they were tired but eager to race. Coach Marian Sweetnam, who accompanied them, says they chose to attend the World Cup for that very reason. "I'm a great believer in short course swimming to stay sharp," she said. "We can get a lot of races in a very short time at these meets, what with the 50s in each stroke and the 100 IM."

Sweetnam picked up a silver medal in the 200 IM (2:15.98) and was fourth in both the 100 and 400 IMs. Flood medalled in the 50 breast (3rd in 32.29) and was 4th and 5th in the 100 and 200 breast respectively.

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