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World SC Doha, Day 2 finals

Dec 4, 2014  - James Parrack

World SC Doha, Day 2 Finals

It's funny how some distance, makes everything seem small.  The further away I get from my competetive career, the 'smaller' things seem.  Instead of thinking about it too much, maybe, like Queen Elsa, I should just let it go and celebrate the men's 4 x 200 free relay, which, if this were a long course world championships, would be echoing into history as one of the great relay races of all time.

But the cold does bother me.  So I will come back to the swimming in a minute and dwell on other things before we return to the racing.  First, Qatar has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.  There is the ongoing controversy over how it won the World Cup 2022 and what it is or isn't doing to address the appalling record of the rights of migrant workers, who, according to Human Rights Watch, 'experience serious rights violations, including forced labor and arbitrary restrictions on the right to leave Qatar, which exposed them to exploitation and abuse by employers.' Add to this the recent controversy after Qatar last month won the right to stage the World Athletics Championships 2019.  The words 'financial incentives', 'workers rights' and 'heat' are all too common at the moment when sport and Qatar meet.

And here we are, a world championship swimming event in the middle of the desert in yet another enormous facility built by migrant workers, where two 50m pools at the Hamad Aquatic Centre sit next door to another 50m pool in the mind bending Aspire Centre, which is an astonishing feat of sporting infrastructure.  As a side note, in Saudi Arabia, a couple of hours' drive away, there are 3 state of the art 50m pools among a multitude of other swim facilities.  But facilities and programmes in the Middle East are for another day because it is a story worth telling.

But... maybe sport forces change.  China hosted the Olympic Games in 2008 to accelerate their human rights programmes although they are again under the spotlight in Hong Kong.  The Middle East currently has a population of 370 million and is one of the fastest growing in the world.  With the wealth in the region there is a compelling story to be told of how sport can play a central role in the health and wellbeing of its next generation. Certainly this, along with the 5 star hotels and lavish buffets, is the picture the region is painting to the global sport federations.

So while Qatar fights to maintain its reputation, the stories of drugs are circling world sport again after this week's allegations from a German TV documtary claim 99 percent of Russia's track and field team are taking drugs.   Put a room full of sports journalists together and talk will rapidly turn to drugs.  Football commentators are no longer just talking about Juventus in the late 1990s; winter sport commentators don't know which way to look and here we are at a world championship swimming event, where Russia is perilously close to losing the right to host next year's world championship because of the number drug positives in swimming. 

With all this background noise to these championships, and with Rio 2016 just around the corner, the sport of swimming needs to be particularly vigilant.  Whenever Chinese swimmers win, including now their men after Sun Yang's somewhat murky 3 month ban, questions are legitimately asked about how certain we are that the processes in place in our sport are ensuring these results are clean.   The same now has to be asked of Russian results.  The same will be asked of Brazilian results across all sports in the next 18 months as the incentives to win for the host nation's athletes will continue to mount. 

And so I can't help but feel slightly uncomfortable when Brazil win three gold medals and I watch Felipe Franca Silva's over the top water slapping routine after winning gold in the 100 breaststroke.  I can't help but feel slightly uncomfortable about  the aggressive chest thumping and muscle flexing performance from coach Shane Tusup when his swimmer, Katinka Hosszu, wins the 100m backstroke.   It takes all sorts, but you can't imagine Fred Vergnoux (coach of Mireia Belmonte) or Carl Jenner (coach of Sarah Sjostrom) insisting on the spotlight in such an aggressive way.  I feel unconfortable because sport, all sport, loves the spectacle more than it loves the hard yards of a disciplined, rigorous and very expensive global drug testing programme.

Following the three world records from Day 1 in Doha, another three fell on Day 2.  Brazil settled any argument about what the world record should be in the men's 4 x 50m medley relay with an outstanding 1:30.51, as Franca Silva (25.33 breast) and Nicholas Santos (21.68 fly) laid the foundation for Cesar Cielo to anchor in 20.08 and set the record straight, wihle France and the USA settled for the minor medals.  The engine room of that relay would lead the mixed 4 x 50 medley relay to another gold in the final event of the day, ahead of GBR and Italy.  Interestingly Brazil swam W, M, M, W, rather than the favoured M, M, W, W of mixed relays.  This is the one reason that the mixed medley relay might have more longevity than the mixed freestyle relay, where it is always M, M, W, W, so, er, what's the point?

In the men's 400IM, 20 year old Daiya Seto of Japan, the world champion, finished nearly 5 seconds clear of 20 year old team mate and Olympic bronze medallist Kosuke Hagino, stopping the clock at 3:56.33, and under Ryan Lochte's world record pace for all but the final 50m.

There were no surprises as Ruta Meilutyte (LTU) held off Alia Atkinson (JAM) to win the 50m breaststroke, although the Plymouth schoolgirl's heart may well have been in her mouth after making a hash of the final three strokes to win by just 0.07 in 28.84, as Jess Hardy's world record  of 28.80 from 2009 remains for now.

Australia's Mitchell Larkin gave a textbook 100m back to take the lead at the 75m turn and finish comfortably ahead of Poland's Radoslaw Kawecki.  49.57 to the winner, as Ryosuke Irie won bronze.

Then to a classic showdown in the women's 100m back.  Hosszu and Mie Nielsen (DEN) tied for the European gold in Berlin this summer, before the Hungarian once again dominated the world cup series through the autumn.  Joining the pair were Australian Olympic and world LC silver medallist Emily Seebohm, and triple european sc champion Daryna Zevina (UKR).  In the end, it was a two horse race with Hosszu and Seebohm stroke for stroke in the final 15m, with Hosszu finishing strongly to set a world record 55.03.  It took a moment fo the time to register before the iron lady started her own water slapping celebration and her coach dragged the spotlight onto some chest puffing of his own.  She is fabulous to watch.  He less so.

Franca Silva took gold number two by holding off pre-race favourite Adam Peaty (GBR).  Peaty set a third British record in three swims, but was 0.06 of the Brazilian's winning time 56.29.  The early leader, world record holder Cam Van Der Burgh was touched out for the brozne by France's Giacomo Perez.

Hosszu is FINA's woman swimmer of the year, and Chad le Clos, another dominant winner of the World Cup series, won the men's vote.  And the pair both set world records today as the South African swam a hugely impressive 100m fly in 48.44.  Le Clos generates terrific speed, and while he still can't help himself take the odd look round, his underwaters are first class and at the business end of the race, his head was down for the last foru or five strokes as he concentrated on the finish.  Tom Shields (USA) picked up the 5000 dollar prize for runner up and Tommaso D'Orsonga (AUS) won 3000 dollars for third.  There is prize money for the top 6 in each event, plus 15,000 dollars for a world record.  The swimmer who racks up the most points over the 5 days will receive a special trophy.

Mireia Belmonte added to the 44,000 dollar payday on day 1 with victory in the 800, free.  8:03.41 was a comfortable (relatively speaking) win of nearly 5 seconds over Jaz Carlin, who broke Rebecca Addlington's British record with an 8:08.16 for second place and 0.01 in front of a strong finishing Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED).

And so to the race of the week, the men's 4 x 200 free.  Maybe the Americans don't like the travel, or maybe it is just the wrong time of year, but they aren't here in the strength they usually bring to a major meet. Ryan Lochte has moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and is returning from a knee injury that has plagued him for much of the year.  Two bronze medals on day 1 isn't the news his million plus followers on twitter want to read.    Brazil set the early pace with a 1:41.85 from Jaoa de Lucca with Italy in second.  Then Izotov swam a whopping 1:40.65, and Russia were over a second clear of the USA, after Lochte's 1:42.42 pulled the USA past Brazil.

Lobuzov held the lead for Russia on the third leg while Chad le Clos posted an immense 1:40.61, the fastes split of the race, and suddenly it was Russia and South Africa, with the USA over a second behind, then Italy.  And so it stayed for 100m metres, but with the race tightening, Tyler Clary and Pippo Magnini led a barnstorming charge to the finish and as the four teams battled for victory it was Clary who delivered gold for the USA, their first of the week, ahead of Italy, Russia and then South Africa.  Clary's chest thumping at the end of that the rawest of emotions spilling out.

James Parrack is Eurosport's swimming commentator and co founder of the BEST Centre, the swim training centre in Mallorca.