The second-last leg of the 1997 FINA Swimming World
Cup went to Imperia, Feb. 4-5, on the shores of the Mediterranean. The city
was plastered with posters announcing the event, and in honour of the prestigious
competition, 17 local restaurants participated in a special week of Mediterranean
cuisine, serving up heaps of pasta from the local sponsor, Agnesi.
The turnout was impressive with 340 swimmers from
32 nations. Returning to World Cup competition after a break were world
record holders Claudia Poll and Le Jingyi, and butterflyer Denis Silantiev.
The evening started well with a 100 freestyle final
in which all eight finalists swam under 50 seconds. The winner was Salim
Iles of Algeria, whose time of 49.04 was both a National and African record.
"I'm really happy," he said, smiling. "We decided to prepare
for the World Cup instead of the Worlds in April because the timing is better
for me. I'm shaved and tapered and I think it was the right decision. It's
a fast pool and the water feels great." Mark Foster brought up the
rear in 49.91; with six other finalists in between, it was a tight race
Canada's Joanne Malar gave Poll a good race in
the 200 freestyle, finishing second (1:59.10) behind Poll's winning time
of 1:58.79. Poll also took the 800 freestyle (8:35.41) in her usual, efficient
Merely days after his world record performance
(4:05.59) in Gelsenkirchen, Marcel Wouda swam a seemingly easy 400 individual
medley, winning in 4:10.36. "No, it didn't feel any easier," he
said afterward, "the 400 IM hurts all the time." With the record
and the keys to a new car in his pocket, he was trying to catch up to Individual
Medley leader Matthew Dunn (74 pts). "I need to win here and in Paris,"
added Wouda. He added a second victory in the 100 race (54.75), leaving
him in second with 67 points.
After a stellar meet in Germany where she medalled
in 5 events, Antje Buschschulte displayed her versatility by winning the
50 backstroke in a personal best of 27.94. Later she took top honours by
a two-second margin in the 200 race (2:09.25). "This is not as important
for me as the long course season, but nonetheless I am a bit prepared,"
she said. "I was surprised that I did so well in Germany, and the pool
here is very fast, so I'm still doing best times."
Leah Martindale, improving as the tour went on,
won the 50 freestyle in 25.26, ahead of world record-holder Le. "During
the first two meets I was working out a lot, and I was more tired. But I've
been resting a bit more since Scotland and it's helping," she said.
"I'm happy with that swim because Germany didn't go very well."
Martindale's coach of two and a half years, Anil Roberts, was extremely
satisfied with her performance, saying, "It was really worth it to
come over here," he said. "We came here to race and Leah has learned
so much. It's been great."
There was general disappointment in Imperia when
it was discovered that Denis Pankratov was not entered in the 100 butterfly.
But when he won the 200 butterfly in 1:54.37, something must have told him
that the time was right, as he was on the heat sheet in the 100 on Sunday
Before the final, Victor Avdienko, Pankratov's
coach and mentor, said to him, "It's not necessary to break the record.
Just swim your best time!"
Laughs aside, the world record that was so elusive
in Gelsenkirchen was finally meant to be. Pankratov was impatient to reclaim
the record still missing from his long list of achievements. It had been
denied him last year due to the lack of a drug test. It escaped him in Germany
because of an untimely false start. And while many suspected the record
would fall in Paris, Pankratov had had enough of waiting.
In a brilliant race with Konstantin Ushkov, Pankratov
stroked to a new world record of 51.93 while the crowd at the Imperia pool
went wild. "What can I say?" he said afterward. "The race
speaks for itself. My friend (Ushkov, first at the 50 mark) swam such that
I had to swim fast." As to whether he would try to better the record
again in Paris, he replied, "It will depend on Ushkov!"
Ukrainian Denis Silantiev was second in 52.19,
a time that bettered the existing European record, while Ushkov finished
third in 52.49. Ushkov had his win in the 50 butterfly in 24.19.
Riding the Russian wave, backstroker Nina Zhivanevskaya
moved into first place in the Backstroke category with her 100 win in 59.78.
Zhivanevskaya has been training alone since December, when her coach was
beset with serious health problems. "I feel a greater sense of responsibility
now that I'm training alone," she said. As for her repeated European
records at the World Cup competitions in Beijing and Gelsenkirchen, she
added, "I'm very happy with the results because it shows me that I'm
in a better position this year (at this time) than I was last year."
In the women's 100 freestyle world record-holder
Jingyi Le held off Claudia Poll and Leah Martindale to take the gold in
54.88. Poll made up for that by winning the 400 freestyle (4:08.18).
After setting a national record in the 100 breaststroke
(1:08.54) on the first night, Brigitte Becue of Belgium swam to her second
victory of the meet in the 200 race (2:26.74).
Mark Foster was smiling after his win in the men's
50 freestyle (22.14). Of his World Cup performances he said," It's
been going great. I've been training in Hamburg with Sandra Völker's
coach Dirk Lange, and I've had 3 weeks of hard training. The blocks here
are slippery and I very nearly lost it (Foster false started in the 50 free
in Glasgow), but luckily it didn't happen." And then, "I'm really
looking forward to Sweden... I think I'll be ready to take the world record
back from Alex (Popov). That's the aim."
Another Canadian winner was Jennifer Button from Waterloo, who won the 200 butterfly in 2:11.97. And last but not least, Italy's own Emiliano Brembilla gave the crowd another thrill in the men's 800 freestyle by setting a national record of 7:47.64.