SWIMNEWS ONLINE: February 1997 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmsteadt

The 15 th ARENA Festival in Gelsenkirchen, Feb.1-2 doubled as the sixth leg in the 1997 FINA Swimming World Cup series. Traditionally one of the toughest in the series, the meet boasted 32 nations for a total of only 180 swimmers, proof that the teams present were generally smaller and of higher quality.

Gelsenkirchen was an especially exciting leg for several reasons: as the Zentralbad had only six lanes, swimmers had to be sharper than usual in the morning to secure a spot in the final, a fact that guaranteed fast swimming. Also, the first World Cup category winners would doubtless be decided here, and every point was precious.

Finally, in addition to the FINA World Cup prize money, there were additional cash prizes up for grabs for each category, as well as a Ford car, a motor-scooter, and a mountain bike for the top three performances according to the international performance ratings.

Michael Klim did not disappoint. Despite his feeling under the weather, he started off the evening session by winning the 100 freestyle in 48.62, finally taking the lead in the men's Sprint Freestyle category. "I've had a bit of a cold since getting here so I'm battling a bit today," he said, "but I'm just glad to win and get that one out of the way."

But the race of the meet was to be the 100 butterfly, when Klim would come up against Olympic champion Denis Pankratov.

Marcel Wouda, NED, with a world record swim for the 400 I.M.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

The men's 400 individual medley proved to be one of the most exciting World Cup races this year. Australia's Matthew Dunn and Marcel Wouda of the Netherlands swam a brilliant race stroke for stroke, but Wouda had the better touch, rewriting Jani Sievinen's world record (4:06.03) with a 4:05.59. Dunn was a close 4:05.62, also under the previous record, and his anguished look spoke volumes as Wouda savoured his achievement. A jubilant Wouda said afterward, "I just wanted to give Dunn a good race, because I knew he would be in good shape, and I knew I was in shape. It was the last chance for us to meet for the whole World Cup so I knew I had to really go. And it was a great race, head to head all the way."

And that was only the beginning. Pankratov was anxiously awaited in the 200 butterfly, and after the non-ratification of his world records in both the 100 and 200 butterfly last year due to the lack of a drug test (Paris World Cup), he had something to prove. He took off like a torpedo, using his famous underwater kick to arrive first and well ahead at 25. He never looked back, splitting 53.07, and despite a difficult last 50, touched in 1:52.64, to claim the world record for the second time. "I've been wanting to do that since last year in Paris," he said. "I think I took it out a bit too fast and that's why it was difficult to finish."

Jörg Hoffmann, Germany, in European record form this winter.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Germany's Jörg Hoffmann came heartbreakingly close to adding another world record to the evening. He gave his utmost, swimming well in front, but was 3/10 of a second short; his time of 3:40.78 was nevertheless a new European record. "I wouldn't have thought that it was possible to narrow the margin between the World and European records even more," he said. "The 800 metres tomorrow can only be better."

In women's competition breaststroker Xue Han kept up her supremacy in the 100 race. She touched in 1:06.9, the third fastest swim of all time. Her teammate Limin Liu took the 100 butterfly in 58.42.

Germany went 1-2-3 in the women's 50 freestyle, with short course European champion Sandra Völker missing her own European record by a mere 2/100 of a second. Katrin Meissner and Simone Osygus followed in 25.16 and 25.24 respectively.

Responding no doubt to the tremendous crowd support, Germany's Antje Buschschulte had a more than successsful evening, winning the 200 freestyle (1:57.46), the 200 backstroke (2:08.60), and adding a second place finish in the 50 backstroke (28.67) behind Russia's Nina Zhivanevskaya (28.06). Canadian rookie Tara Sloane of Calgary missed out on first place in the 100 breaststroke, but her second-place time of 1:07.96 was a Canadian record. Sloan added two more silvers in the 50 and 200 races.

On the second night Michael Klim powered his way to yet another victory in the 200 freestyle (1:45.34). With his curious, straight-armed stroke, Klim became the first definitive World Cup winner, having achieved the maximum 80 points in the Sprint Freestyle.

Pankratov had been eagerly awaited in the 100 butterfly, as many hoped for a repeat world record performance. But a false start in the morning heats led to his disqualification and he watched the final from the stands, a reminder that even the best can make mistakes!

In his absence, the race went to newcomer Konstantin Ushkov, also of Russia. A training partner of Pankratov's, Ushkov has perfected the same underwater technique, and Pankratov says that "he does it better than I do in practice." Ushkov's time of 52.26 broke the European record set in Glasgow by Great Britain's James Hickman. Hickman had to settle for second place with 52.49, while a tired Klim was third in 52.70.

Xue Han figured that one world record was not enough. She lowered her own record in the 50 breaststroke, done earlier in the week in Glasgow, by over a tenth of a second, touching in 30.77.

In the women's 100 backstroke, Nina Zhivanevskaya went for it in the morning, breaking her own European record set at the World Cup in Beijing with a time of 58.99. She won the final in 59.59, moving into second place in the Backstroke category.

After a powerhouse win in the 800 freestyle the previous day (8:30.35), 15-year-old Natasha Bowron added her second win in the women's 400 freestyle with a personal best of 4:06.66, putting her in top spot in the women's Distance Freestyle category with 60 points.

Susan Rolph swam to her second victory of the meet in the 100 individual medley (1:01.74). "It's going exactly as planned because I'm trying to win the category," she said. "In order to tie with the Chinese girl I need to win two more medleys, so I should manage that in Imperia and Paris."

While Germany's Jirka Letzin stole the win for the 50 backstroke (24.98), Russian Vladimir Selkov came back to win the 200 race in 1:54.86. "It's my first competition so it's feeling pretty new," he said. "I'll try to do better next time (in Italy)."

Sandra Völker wrapped up the meet with a European record in the 50 butterfly of 26.97. Unfortunately the time did not win her the race, as she was upstaged by Limin Liu, who touched in 26.84.

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