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WR: Biedermann Takes Down Thorpe: 3:40.07

Jul 26, 2009  - Craig Lord

Ian Thorpe's 3:40.08 is no longer the world record over 400m freestyle. The mark belongs to Paul Biedermann and the arena X-Glide in 3:40.07. The German turned into the last 50m just down on Thorpe's 2002 pace but came home faster than the biggest kick in swimming history to win the world crown in Rome this evening. 

Silver and bronze went to Oussama Mellouli (TUN) in 3:41.11 and Zhang Lin (CHN), in 3:41.35.  Those times rearranged the all-time top 10 to such an extent that Kieren Perkins (AUS) has now dropped out of the list 17 months after he was still to be found as the 4th best ever.

There were just six pre-February world records left on the book coming into Rome. Two were felled in the first half an hour of finals at the Foro Italico. Grant Hackett is the only man left standing with that monumental 14:34.56 from 2001 over 1,500m. He also holds the 800m, while Kate Ziegler (USA) and Leisel Jones (AUS) hang on to 1,500m free and 100m breaststroke standards that predate suit wars.

To Biedermann's credit, said that he would not have got "within 2sec of Thorpe's world record" without help from his X-Glide. FINA forced arena to modify the suit but failed to understand what it was about the suit that helped so much. As such, modified or not, the suit is making its first and last stand as among the fastest pieces of equipment in the history of swimming.

"The swimsuit helped me a lot,'' said the German, who, psychologically mauled by the suits issue in a year in which he had no access to the LZR, finished 18th in Beijing in 3:47.69. That is a huge difference.

"I was never expecting to break this world record," said Biedermann. "I was focussing on Monday (200m free) and didn't expect this at all and I'm so happy about it.

"It was just an amazing feeling, I couldn't describe it. It's a thing that you only live through one time in your life. I didn't expect it at all, I thought it would be faster than the semi-final but it was a really great race, that pushed it to get fast times."

Biedermann trailed Mellouli through the first three-quarters of the race before kicking, Thorpe-style but not with the same gusto or gain that marked the Australia out, in the final 100m to go clear of the disingenuous Tunisian.

"Mellouli led for a long time and he really pushed me, I just said to myself: 'don't let him go, stay at his feet'. At the end I was really glad to beat him."

Biedermann paid tribute to his predecessor as world record holder, the five-time Olympic gold medallist Thorpe, who set 13 world records during his career. "He's a living and swimming legend, one of my swimming idols. I watched him at home on TV and never expected to swim that fast or beat his world record," said the German.

"But even if I did beat one of his world records, he is still a legend."

Mellouli came out with this load of old rubbish: "It was going to happen, swimming is improving every year and those records, even if they're held by amazing swimmers, fantastic records, Thorpe's records, (Michael) Phelps's records, pretty soon they're going to go down. That's the nature of the sport, it brings the best out of competitors each year. That's what happens when you've got competitions like these with athletes that strive to work harder, strive to compete better and that's the end result: records will be broken."

No, it is not what happens. I wouldn't recommend you stay up late reading up on your history of swimming, Ouss, what with all that trouble you had staying up late to study last time, but you might want to consider acknowledging that there is nothing normal about the world champs in Rome and what is happening in the water and on the clock right now. When you race the 800m and the 1,500m, know that you are doing so in conditions that do not compare to those that Hackett faced. You have the advantage - at least for now.

Mellouli stood in the mixed zone and told reporters that he expected Thorpe's record to fall because they were all working so hard. No one suggests that swimmers are not working hard but Mellouli's stance is pure hogwash and opportunism. The suit was truly significant: 7sec best time in 12 months at 23 (Biedermann's birthday falls the week after Rome).

The 400m splits compared:

  • Thorpe: 53.02; 1:49.57; 2:45.43; 3:13.04; 3:40.08
  • Biedermann: 54.42; 1:51.02; 2:47.17; 3:14.30; 3:40.07

That homecoming split tells us much about the suits: the German, coached by Frank Embacher in Halle, birthplace of Kornelia Ender, was 1.27sec faster than the Australian, a former world champion and record holder over 800m.

The other medal winners:

  • Mellouli: 53.86; 1:50.44; 2:46.29; 3:41.11
  • Zhang: 53.97; 1:50.71; 2:47.15; 3:41.35

Here is how the Rome race fits into "swimming" history:

A little context: some suggest that the suits don't affect events of 400m or longer. I beg to differ. Evgeni Sadovyi, with that winning 3:45.00 world record at the Barcelona Games in 1992 had spent 15 years sliding down the ranks slowly. In mid-2007, the Russian's time was still 35th all-time performance on a list that included 16 efforts by Thorpe. It is now 77th.

Rome 2009 final

  • Podium: 3:40.07-3:41.35
  • Final: 3:40.07-3:47.02
  • Inside 3:41: 1
  • Inside 3:42: 3
  • Inside 3:45: 5
  • Inside 3:47: 7

Melbourne 2007 final:

  • Podium: 3:44.30-3:45.43
  • Final: 3:44.30-3:48.49
  • Inside 3:41: 0
  • Inside 3:42: 0
  • Inside 3:45: 1
  • Inside 3:47: 5

The new all-time top 10:

  • 3:40.07 Biedermann GER
  • 3:40.08 Thorpe AUS
  • 3:41.11 Mellouli TUN
  • 3:41.35 Zhang CHN
  • 3:41.86 Park KOR
  • 3:42.51 Hackett AUS
  • 3:42.78 Jensen USA
  • 3:43.11 Vanderkaay USA
  • 3:43.40 Rosolino ITA
  • 3:43.45 Lobintsev RUS

And coming out of Melbourne 2007:

  • 3:40.08 Thorpe AUS
  • 3:42.51 Hackett AUS
  • 3:43.40 Rosolino ITA
  • 3:43.80 Perkins AUS
  • 3:44.11 Keller USA
  • 3:44.30 Park KOR
  • 3:44.44 Prilukov RUS
  • 3:45.00 Sadovyi RUS
  • 3:45.11 Brembilla ITA
  • 3:45.82 Vanderkaay USA