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Session Ends With Semi-Shanghai Surprise

Dec 15, 2010  - Craig Lord

The little pool will not go down as having shut down shop for a whole calendar year as has been the case in the big pool, China's 4x200m free women's quartet having sliced a vast chunk of the best we'd ever seen before and proving yet again that it appears more capable than most of finding four who can stand up on the day and produce the best they ever have. 

See our race-by-race reports below for details of that and the three European records set today, but as an overview, here's how well that Chinese quartet did (long-course bests offered as a guide given that they have seldom if ever swum s/c):

  • Chen Qian, 17, 1:54.73 (long-course her best is 1:59.25 from this year, her 2009 best a 1:59.71) 
  • Tang Yi, 17, 1:53.54 (her long-course best in 2010 is 1:56.82, after a 2009 best of 2:00.15)
  • Liu Jing, 20, 1:53.59 (her long-course best is 1:56.33 from this year, after a 2009 best of 2:00.00)
  • Zhu Qianwei, 20, 1:54.08 (her long-course best is 1:56.65 from 2010, after a 2009 best of 1:57.43).

Some sizeable drops from the 17-year-olds on their first big global outing.

The girls were full of joy, offering such quotes at the press conference as "We were expecting to break the world record. We're young and we're happy to be getting experience of a world-class competition. The only challenge we had was ourselves." We were told that all four were from Shanghai, a booming place and host to the 2011 world long-course championships. Actually, Tang and Zhu are from Shanghai, their teammates from elsewhere.

Lest we forget, Shanghai is the city where controversy arose a couple of years back when Prof. Helga Pfeiffer, one of the purveyors of the GDR's State Plan 14:25, appeared in the Chinese city with a sales pitch for training flumes developed in East Germany. And deal was done and somewhere in Shanghai is a spectacular training facility with a great many swim benches and a very expensive flume. Those in charge of the Shanghai operation are keener than keen to distance themselves from all that went in the 1980s and 1990s. 

That was all a far from the world of the teenage champions on the podium today in Dubai, though facilities and a systematic approach to training are part of the mix of their lives and those of many others in elite sport, among reasons cited for success "the quality of our venues and the fact that we are young and constantly competing again each other". Shanghai has four pools and a set-up many coaches around the world can only look at with envy. Much hard work is being done, though there is clearly room for skills improvement among some of the new China crew.

Just as important as noting the good work being done is the need for vigilance of and communication with a place beyond ken and sight for many in the swimming world. Some will always resent the linking of dark to light but against the backdrop of what came to pass in the 1990s and what the sport lived through, important that such history be acknowledged and never repeated, for many reasons, among them the very health and welfare of the four athletes who raced into uncharted waters on a number of levels in Dubai today and live in better times than those who went before them and were abused by rogues out to feed them a diet of substances for personal gain regardless of their pain.

The fine spirit of the four youngsters celebrating their success in Dubai today, the world of swimming hopes with hand on heart, is part of a new era for a nation that set out on the wrong foot in the sport with links to the GDR stemming back to the 1980s and proceeded to pour shame on swimming in the 1990s. Their target is now to match their Dubai result at home in Shanghai for world long-course titles in July next year. 

They better get to bed, in that case - though at going on for 1am here two of the Chinese medal winners could still be found waiting in a bus to travel 40mins or so to their hotel after anti-doping control. What works for TV schedules and so forth does not always work best for young teenage athletes, who looked exhausted - day one just drawing to a close, or rather being bumped into submission too few hours before the warm-up for day 2 heats will see the athletes back in the pool.

The first finals session was marked by puffs of smoke being blown skyward from pillars either side of swimmers as they individually introduced to the crown before a solo walk-out to blocks. Not as dramatic as the black backdrop of Manchester in 2008 but appropriate for the big bang produced by Ryan Lochte in the opening final, a 200m freestyle that delivered a championship record of 1:41.08, and a 9th gold and 16th world s/c career medal for the man born in New York and raised in the Sunshine State. That standards would be rewritten has been a storm waiting to happen, the championship record having stood to Ian Thorpe (AUS) at 1:43.28 since he was a teen on the move in 1999. I heats, all eight men got past his mark. 

"Despite the victory, I feel disappointed with the time," said Lochte. "It was like I wasn’t in the race, despite being a very fast pool. "I’ll take each race and each day at a time," added the man with much on his plate (200m back, 200 and 400m IM, three relays, one of those down, two to go). In the spill, young Yannick Agnel missed the cut for finals and learned a lesson, while Paul Biedermann (GER) says he will go back to the drawing board on technique.

And all the while, over in Baltimore, the man who might menace them all is hard at work. As events unfolded inside the air-con bubble in balmy Dubai, Olympic champion Michael Phelps was to be found going through the paces set for him by coach Bob Bowman as Baltimore scraped off the ice of a -8C winter's day: a couple of 6km sessions, largely aerobic, plus half an hour running and a little core work on top of that. Last weekend at his home club Christmas yards invitational, he cracked out some impressive times, his next big target the world long-course championships in Shanghai next July.

Back at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex and in Lochte's boiling wake came a lady matador on a mission. Mireia Belmonte (ESP), 20, went to bed a double world champion, with championship records the bonus for victories in the 200m butterfly and 400m medley. Her 2:03.59 'fly got inside the 2:04.27 of Mary Descenza (USA) at Manchester 2008, and her 4:24.21 cracked Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) and her 4:26.52 standard from the same English event in 2008. 

If Belmonte is well known, her technique familiar, Ye Shiwen, 14, is new to international waters. Clearly powerful and ready to dig deep and fight to the wall, Ye has room for improvement technique wise. What she has in spirit she lacks in skill right now, her backstroke, while fast, lumpy and inefficient, her breaststroke no match for Belmonte's, though that could be said of everyone else in the race.

"I’m tired and confused, it's a lot of feelings together, and it’s magic!" said the broad-smiling Spaniard who elevated her nation to the top of the medals table on day 1. "Now, I’m part of Spanish history. I wasn't ready for that."

Gaul's sprint heroes, Alain Bernard, Fred Bousquet, Fabien Gilot and Yannick Agnel, are part of French history too: believe it or not, France had never stood on the podium in the sprint relay before today, let alone stood in the highest place aloft it.

One man's joy is another's sadness sometimes and as some celebrated, others had reason to rethink their seasons and plans. Among those who have had a great 2010 season elsewhere but appear to have fallen over a cliff here in Dubai were Steffen Deibler, a man celebrated in Germany as a symbol of rejuvenation in Deutschland after winning European free and 'fly crowns in Eindhoven finished 21st in the 100m ;fy this morning. He was joined on the stands for tomorrow's final by 2000 Olympic champion Lars Frolander (SWE) and Commonwealth champion Geoff Huegill (AUS).


Nation     G    S    B

  • ESP    2    -    -
  • CHN   1    1    1
  • FRA    1    -    1
  • USA    1    -    -
  • RUS    -    2    -
  • AUS    -    1    -
  • GBR    -    1    -
  • BRA    -    -    1
  • SWE   -    -    1
  • TUN    -    -    1