REGENSBURG- "Franzi" is back....or is she? After a self-imposed rest following the Atlanta Olympics, a motorcycle accident in May had Franziska van Almsick out of commission for the Europeans in August. She showed up in Sevilla as a guest commentator for ZDF television, vowing to go on to Perth as a contender.
So when the 19-year-old glamour girl of the German swimming scene arrived in Regensburg for the World Championship Trials, her first real competition appearance, she was more than a little nervous. "I'm missing power and muscle in my left arm where my wrist was broken," she said. "I'll only qualify for the relays in Perth." Her goals had been modified; having entered the 100 and 200 freestyles, the 100 fly and 200 IM, she scratched the fly and medley events before the first heat was swum.
After finishing sixth in the 100 freestyle with a 57.16, she was unsure as to the outcome of the 200 two days later. She walked around the venue steely-eyed. When the 200 freestyle brought the expected result, Kerstin Kielgass in first (2:00.63), Dagmar Hase in second (2:01.69) and van Almsick in third (2:02.17), the Berlin native was relieved and happy. Surrounded by TV cameras, photographers, and journalists, she smiled and said, "My heart lost many, many heavy rocks. In Perth I can go two seconds faster."
Despite the fact that second-placed Hase opted out of the 200 freestyle in Perth to concentrate on the 400, van Almsick said she would not defend her title in the individual event saying, "When I can win a medal I will take the chance, but at the moment I'm a long way from the medal rankings in Perth." She will compete in relays only and head women's coach Achim Jedamsky confirmed that she will be considered an alternate in the 400 freestyle relay as well.
The final test for van Almsick before Australia will be an event in late December in Hamburg organized specially for her. "Now I have seven weeks of training and then we will see," she said cautiously.
The van Almsick comeback overshadowed other champions in Regensburg, such as Sandra Volker, who won the 50 free (25.38), 100 free (55.72) and the 100 back (1:02.00), beating European champion Antje Buschschulte (1:02.65), who will swim only that event in Perth.
The men's 200 freestyle was another "oldie" event; Jorg Hoffmann won it for the first time in his 10- year career. The 27-year-old clocked 1:50.59 ahead of Steffen Zesner (1:50.83), who is three years older than Hoffmann. The former world champion in the 1500 in Perth 1991 announced that he would no longer compete in the long distance internationally. "I will concentrate on the shorter distances now," he said. In the 400 he had no problem holding off the youngsters, finishing with a lead of nearly seven metres.
The German coaches anticipate a fourth-place finish for the German women in Perth (behind the USA, China, and Australia). For the men it will be a difficult task to medal, with the possible exception of relays. In the shuffle of another trials for Perth, two members (Lars Kalenka and Uwe Volk) of the Sevilla team didn't make it. Only two newcomers were added to the Perth team, Nicole Hetzer and Stefan Herbst. Critics complained that the team from Sevilla should have been automatically selected for Perth, and that an extra trials at this time of year was not necessary or beneficial.