SWIMNEWS ONLINE: May 1996 Magazine Articles

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Cecil M. Colwin

SYDNEY- Experts and spectators alike were mystified by a mixed bag of results at the Australian Olympic Trials and National Championships held April 20-27.

A total of over 40,000 people at the magnificent Sydney International Aquatic Centre (SIAC), venue for the 2000 Olympics, watched a week of unexpected poor swims, highlighted only here and there by a glimmer of hope produced by such swimmers as Scott Miller, Michael Klim, Scott Goodman, Daniel Kowalski and Susie O'Neill. The overall mood was one of puzzlement. By general consensus these have been the "weirdest" Australian championships in memory.

World's fastest 200m free for Michael Klim.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

All week, pressure, anxiety, and tension (the "PAT" triad) ruled supreme. In Sydney, birthplace of the crawl stroke, where swimming receives an average of six to eight full pages of daily newspaper coverage, and where even the taxi drivers try to teach world famous coaches how to do it right, the whole city was aghast when Kieren Perkins flopped on the first day of the meet, and failed to reach the final of the 200 freestyle.

And during the week that followed, the misfortunes of Kieren Perkins were followed, it seemed, by every sporting fan in Australia. In fact, one journalist commented that the off-form Perkins was swimming with the weight of Australia on his shoulders. The pitiful sight of a grossly off-form Perkins, literally scratching through the water, may have set the tone for many of the other swimmers.

Sprint king Chris Fydler won the 50m and 100m free.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

For all contestants, not only was it a case of "Georgia on my mind," as Paul Kent wrote in the Sydney Sun-Herald, but support funding from the Australian Sports Commission and large business corporations all hung in the balance. Failure to make the team would have resulted in the loss of thousands and thousands of dollars to both Perkins and the Australian Swimming Team, not to mention the possibility of a few gold medals. So it was not difficult to see how these factors, and several others, added up to an accumulation of excessive stress.

With difficult selection times to achieve, and big bucks riding on the outcome, anxiety soon turns to pressure, and then becomes a body and mind-numbing tension, which often shows up as loss of stroke rhythm and co-ordination, and general inability to get grooved into one's pace.

In fact, in Perkins' case, he only made the team on the last day of the Trials, and in the last individual event of the day. He finished second to Daniel Kowalski, after bravely taking the initial lead in the 1500, but failing eventually to maintain the pace as Kowalski closed on him, made up a big lead, and then passed Perkins to win by an arm's length. Former Australian Olympic champion Murray Rose (1956-60) called the duel "The most exciting 'ordinary' race I've ever seen."

Helen Denman surprised off - form world record holder Samantha Riley in the 50m and 100m breast.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

A prominent Sydney journalist, Mike Gibson said, "Perkins gave us an object lesson in how to handle pressure. A lesson in not only determination and good old-fashioned guts, but a lesson in conquering yourself."

Dawn Fraser, the only Australian to win golds at three consecutive Olympics said that Perkins "had allowed increased obligation to media, sponsors, and employers to distract him from training and competing."

However, John Carew, Perkins' coach said that Kieren "had been training hard. Kieren is very focussed. He is a fighter." Carew revealed that Perkins' serum ferritin levels were off the card. "If your iron level drops, you lose energy, you can't compete, you're very tired." Carew said. "At the time we thought it was a one-off problem. But now we think it could explain things. I'm not saying it is, but it's possible. Further tests will tell."

The next 12 weeks between the Australian Trials and the start of the Olympics will be a period of suspense not only for Perkins and his avuncular coach, but for all their millions of fans thoughout Australia. Missed by a mite

Missed by a mite

A scant 24/100ths of a second cost Sydney butterfly swimmer Scott Miller $25,000. This was the prize offered by Telstra Australia for the first male to break a world record in the meet.

Flyer Scott Miller world leader for the 100m in 1996.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

Winning the 100m butterfly in a brilliant 52.56, the 21-year-old Miller (1.93 m, 90 kg) missed the mark by a mite but became the star of the meet, and Australia's best gold medal hope. This is the second fastest swim ever, and shoves Pablo Morales' old world record down to third place in the all-time rankings.

Miller's swim was the more meritorious because he had been feeling ill, and swum with a numb hand after an elbow injury earlier in the day. According to Jacquelin Magnay of The Sydney Morning Herald, Miller said that he had not wanted to take a Panadol for his bad headache, an obvious reference to the Samantha Riley episode.

Sprinter Karen Van Wirdum sets new 50m free record.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

The world record is held by Denis Pankratov in 52.32 but the Russian star's best time this year is 52.80, recorded in the Russian Olympic trials last week. With the year's fastest time, Miller could be poised to win the Olympic title to follow in the furrows of Australian gold medal fly swimmers Kevin Berry (1964) and John Sieben (1984).

The Olympic 100 butterfly final could become a test of nerves and strategy. First, consider the contrasting styles of the two great swimmers. Pankratov is apt to swim almost one third of the racing distance under the water doing dolphin kick with arms outstretched, while Miller swims on top all the way.

Miller says he can swim the first part of the race faster by staying on top. In fact, he has tried swimming underwater but clocks 11.2 seconds for 25 metres as compared with 10.7 seconds when swimming on the surface.

Susan O'Neill won bothe fly events and the 100m free.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

There are many who emphatically state that underwater kicking is not butterfly swimming. (Always on the ball, FINA has agreed to ban the underwater technique, but only after the Atlanta Games are over. Figure that one out, if you will.)

But back to the point; the first 50 metres of the Olympic butterfly final will be an interesting spectacle. Knowing that the speedy Scott Miller is ripping away in the surface water above him, the question is: "Will Pankratov panic?"

Pankratov's world record split was 24.58, while Miller went down the first 50 in the Australian trials in 24.9. But what if Pankratov surfaces to find the tough Sydney speedster ahead of him? Pankratov dares not over-extend himself during his underwater swim, but yet he must gain the advantage in his specialised underwater phase.

Aussie one - two punch in 200 I.M. Matt Dunn and Simon Coombs.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

Here's another ingredient to add to the mix: this week Scott Miller swam the fastest second lap (27.6) in the history of the 100 metres butterfly event. Miller's second fifty is a fearsome thing to see. Now, if Pankratov spends too much energy while doing his sub-surface kicking stint, he may be hard put to counter the Aussie when Miller accelerates into the second lap.

The best strategy for both athletes may well be for each to swim his own race until the closing stages, which may then resolve into one of the most exciting finishes of the Games.

Scott Miller spent his early years swimming in the Carlile Organisation, then did five years at the Institute of Sport in Canberra, before returning nine months ago to train again with the Carlile Organisation in Sydney. Miller trained at high altitude in Arizona with the Australian team, both last year, before the Pan Pacs in Atlanta, and again this year.

Backstroke winner Nicole Stevenson.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Darin Braybrook/Sport - The Library

Miller's 100 metres butterfly has improved more than his 200 over the last year. He has swum four 200s, all within 0.1 of each other, but, in that time his 100 has dropped 1 1/2 to 2 seconds.

Mark Morgan, also of the Carlile Organisation, told me that Miller knows exactly how many strokes he takes in both the 100 and the 200. Miller has a remarkably long stroke, looks very big in the water, and covers the first 50 in the 100 with only 17 strokes, using a soft kick, "keeping it in second gear," to conserve energy for the second 50.

Morgan added that one of Scott Miller's outstanding qualities is his psychological approach: "I mean this in the nicest possible way: 'Scotty' is a fairly uncomplicated fellow, and has a wonderfully relaxed attitude to competition, and I think that very little would faze him. Not even Pankratov's underwater swim at the start of the race."

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