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W 100m 'Fly: Vollmer Opens US Gold Account

Jul 25, 2011  - Craig Lord

Day 2 finals, Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai

Women's 100m Butterfly 

American Dana Vollmer, having set the fastest time ever in a textile suit (56.47) in semis yesterday, backed up with the world title tonight, a 56.87 edging out Commonwealth champion Alicia Coutts (AUS) by 0.07sec, the bronze going to Lu Ying (CHN) in 57.06. The gap between gold and silver made it the closest title win in the history of the event since 1973.

Locked out in fourth was defending champion and world record holder from Rome and European champion from last year, Sarah Sjoestrom (SWE), on 57.38 this time round. 

The world record was set at 56.06 off a 26.94 split in Rome during a week in which polyurethane and other non-textile suits buoyed swimmers to a farcical 43 world marks in just eight days.

Just where the suits helped is becoming ever more obvious. Coutts turned in 26.51, with Vollmer on 26.61 and Sjoestrom on 26.72. The glide off the wall in Shanghai was not what it was in Rome and where fatigue was kept at bay in rubber, it hit home without the support.

Vollmer said she floats "really well" naturally and did not feel the shiny suits helped her stroke but they did contribute big time to underwater work and helped those who had not done the same core work as others. Vollmer cites "floating" and "core" as the beneficiaries of suits that "helped some people get even with us" when otherwise they would have struggled.

The suits gone the work to achieve the same effect through natural means continues. The 23-year-old American champion, coached by Teri McKeever at Cal Berkley,  has been working in Tasmania with water whisperer Milt Nelms, husband of 1972 Australian Olympic legend of Shane Gould, triple gold winner at Munich 1972. Nelms' purpose it to tweak angles of buoyancy so that the athlete can achieve naturally some of the speed that shiny suits poured into the race pool until a ban on non-textile apparel in January 2010. 

Vollmer praised Nelms and the work he had undertaken with her, including ocean swimming, Down Under. Nelms also works with several other world-class athletes, including Natalie Coughlin.  

The result:

  • 1. Dana Vollmer (USA) 56.87
  • 2. Alicia Coutts (AUS) 56.94
  • 3. Lu Ying (CHN) 57.06
  • 4. Sarah Sjoestrom (SWE) 57.38
  • 5. Ellen Gandy (AUS) 57.55
  • 6. Liu Zige (CHN) 57.57
  • 7. Jessica Schipper (AUS) 57.95
  • 8. Jemma Lowe (GBR) 57.96

Race report

Coutts was first at the turn on 26.51, with Vollmer 0.1sec away and Sjoestrom on 26.72, inside the 26.94sec split on the way to a 56.06 world mark in Rome two years ago when FINA allowed suits that made streamlining the stuff of marine mammals and knocked back-end fatigue for six. Lu turned fourth in 26.98 and then produced the fastest homecoming split in the final, 30.08. 

That was not good enough to get past Vollmer, for whom a 30.26 split was good for gold, the lead hers from about 20m out from stopping the clock. Coutts clocked 30.43 to ensure two inside the magical 57sec mark, the winner on 56.87, silver 0.07sec away. Sjoestrom was always in contention but fell a touch further off the lead pace to the end wall with a 30.66 split.

Next home was Australia-base Brit Ellen Gandy, on 57.55, her best in international waters just shy of all-time best and the best finish ever by a British swimmer. Indeed, Jemma Lowe's eighth place put two Brits in the 100m 'fly final for the first time ever. Liu Zige (CHN), Olympic 200m champion, was 0.02sec away from Gandy, with world 200m champion Jess Schipper (AUS) on 57.95,  0.01sec ahead of Lowe. Had it not been for Rome, this would have been the first sub 58-sec final (and was, in textile).

Victory gave Vollmer her sixth career medal at world titles but a maiden solo gold. "It's awesome. I was a little slower than in the semis. It was a little more painful than yesterday," Vollmer said. "I'm so excited. I've never won a world championship before." Vollmer has been swimming at an elite level since 12, when became the youngest competitor at the 2000 US Olympic trials. A member of the winning US 4x200m free quartet at the 2004 Olympic in Athens, she has long been a bridesmaid but never the bride.

As it was with Natalie Coughlin and the building of a backstroke that relies on synergy with the water and the kinds of things you will find discussed here by Milt Nelms, for Vollmer, who also put her success down to the regime and cultural environment (in water and life) of McKeever at Cal, is starting to reap the rewards of a new understanding with the element in which she excels.

A 4x100m free silver in her bag, Vollmer has the 50m butterfly, the 100m free and 4x200m relay to go, having dropped the solo 200m from her programme to be able to tighten her focus and work more to her pure sprint strengths, she said.

History in the making


  • WR (all suits):  56.06 Sarah Sjoestrom (SWE) 2009
  • WR (textile):    56.47 Dana Vollmer (USA) 2011  
  • First woman under 1:00: Christiane Knacke (GDR)* 59.78, Berlin, August 28, 1977
  • First woman under 59/58: Mary T Meagher (USA) 57.93, Brown Deer, August 16, 1981
  • First woman under 57sec: Inge de Bruijn (NED) 56.69, Sheffield, May 27, 2000
  • * - GDR swimmers were systematically doped under State Plan 14:25

World-class stats:

  • World Record wins: Kornelia Ender (GDR); Sjoestrom
  • Title retained: Ender
  • Biggest margin: Ender beat Shirley Babashoff (USA) by 1.33sec in 1973 
  • Closest shave: Birgit Meineke (GDR) beat Annemarie Verstappen (NED) by 0.08sec in 1978; now Vollmer to Coutts, 0.07sec in Shanghai

From the archive:

Only one swimmer has ever won the world crown five years apart: Jenny Thompson (USA). In 1998, she became the fastest champion in history, on 58.46 and in 1999 took down Mary T Meagher's 1981 world record in 57.88. But at the Olympic Games in Sydney, she finished fifth, the crown going to Inge de Bruijn (NED) in 56.61. Thompson then took time out but by 2003 in Barcelona, she was back at her best as the first swimmer ever to win the title inside 58sec, on 57.96.   

The Rome 2009 was an extraordinary affair. At the helm on a world record of 56.06 was Swedish teenager Sarah Sjostrom, while six others in the final broke 57sec. Libby Lenton's 57.15 win for Australia in Melbourne 2007 would have placed last. In just 16 months, Mary T Meagher (USA), who held the world record at 57.93 between 1981 and 1999, had slipped from 12th to 38th on the all-time rankings, 2009 ending with 11 women inside 57sec. In 2010, the world rankings boasted nine women inside 58sec, the best of them Sjostrom on 57.32 for the European crown 0.08sec ahead of Francesca Halsall (GBR). In between those two were sandwiched the two Americans heading for Shanghai, Christine Magnuson and Dana Vollmer, while Commonwealth champion Alicia Coutts (AUS) followed on in 57.53.