SWIMNEWS ONLINE: February 1997 Magazine Articles

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Karin Helmsteadt

The end was in sight, and the ambiance was electric. A total of 271 swimmers from 39 nations converged in Paris, Feb. 8-9, for the eighth and final leg of the 1997 FINA Swimming World Cup. Newcomers to the circuit were teams from Spain, Luxembourg, and Saudi Arabia.

The Paris meet has a long history of fast swimming, and the swimmers were excited. The performances on the first night did not disappoint and Paris joined Gelsenkirchen as the other definite highlight of this year's World Cup series.

Germany's Mark Warnecke got the crowd revved up by bettering his own world record in the 50 breaststroke from 27.00 to 26.97. "I only planned to do it since this morning," said Warnecke. "I haven't really prepared for the World Cup, so I wasn't expecting anything in particular. But this morning I felt really good, so I decided to shave down, and it happened." While the money wasn't his main objective going into the World Cup, Warnecke has a chance to win the Breaststroke title, and admits it would be a nice plus.

Brigitte Becue passed up on the Flemish Championships in her native Belgium to come to Paris, her fifth World Cup meet. "I'm second in the Breaststroke category by one point," she said, "and I need to score more than 14 to win it. The decision was an easy one." And after Imperia she knew she was on a roll. She lowered her national record yet again in Paris, swimming 1:08.13, marking 10 points, and moving ever closer to the World Cup title. "I'm really happy with that time," she added, "but a 1:07.9 would be even better!"

The second and most spectacular world record of the evening went to Marcel Wouda. Unlike the 400 IM in Gelsenkirchen (WR 4:05.59), where he was pushed all the way by Matthew Dunn, he swam the race all on his own, well ahead of the rest of the field. When he touched the wall and saw his time of 4:05.41, his disbelief was followed by a whoop of joy. "I was so surprised," he said, "I knew by the breaststroke that I was on a good pace because I could hear the crowd, but I had no idea it was that fast. I just can't believe this!" He added another victory in the 100 I.M., pushing his score up to the maximum 80 points to win the title for the Individual Medley category.

Jörg Hoffmann of Germany swam to yet another European record in the 400 freestyle with his time of 3:40.58, thereby moving into first place in the Distance Freestyle category.

Claudia Poll had her usual tough first day. The Costa Rican won the 200 freestyle in 1:57.97, and followed it up with a gold in the 800 freestyle (8:27.92). "The tour has been going pretty well," she said. "I took the 200 a little easier tonight because I knew I had the 800, and it's a long day. By winning that I'm now in first in the Distance Freestyle."

Denis Pankratov, Russia, holder of all four butterfly World records.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

And finally, Denis Pankratov had one more world record to claim. The Russian deliberately left the 200 butterfly out of his program in Paris to concentrate on the 50 race. But he was decidedly unhappy after the morning heats, where he was upstaged by his teammate Konstatin Ushkov. In the final, the two underwater specialists were spectacular on their first length, but Pankratov showed no mercy. He was first at the turn and first to the wall, in a world record time of 23.35. The double Olympic champion now holds every possible butterfly world record (the only man to hold all of the records at once), and his satisfaction in Paris was no doubt particularly sweet.

For the closing night of the 1997 FINA Swimming World Cup in Paris, spectators lined up outside the Georges Vallerey Pool two hours before the opening of the doors. The stands were packed, the temperature soared, and the applause was at times deafening.

Costa Rica's Claudia Poll was dominant in the sprint and distance freestyles.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Obviously in her element, Poll trounced world record-holder Jingyi Le to win the women's 100 freestyle in 54.56, her best time. Le was second in 55.23. Poll also dominated the 400 freestyle (4:05.63), an event for which she is currently ranked first in the world (4:05.31). "I went out too slow!" she said, grinning, "but the 54 (seconds) in the 100 was great!" Poll wins the the Distance Freestyle and finishes second in the Sprint Freestyle, proving herself to be one of the most versatile freestylers currently competing. "And I even wanted to swim the 50 free!" she enthused. "I love the challenge of swimming the different events and having to change the pace, like the 200 yesterday followed by the 800. Next year I might even start swimming the IMs again." After winning the 100 and 400 individual medleys, Marcel Wouda skipped the 200 IM and had fun with the 200 freestyle. In a no pressure event, Wouda clocked an impressive 1:45.25 (world's fastest to-date), adding a new Dutch record to his spectacular World Cup achievements. "I'm so mentally exhausted," he said afterward, "but somehow just before my races I've been able to switch off and focus. I'm so happy."

Germany's Mark Warnecke cut it close to win the overall title in the men's Breaststroke. Coming into Paris he trailed by 19 points, and needed two wins to clinch the category. The 50 was world record history and, no doubt inspired, he won the 100 race in 59.55. Victory, and $7,500 were his by one point. Brigitte Becue of Belgium also came through with her second win in the 200 breaststroke (2:25.87) to win the women's Breaststroke category.

But the high point of the evening, and perhaps of the entire 1997 Series, was without a doubt Denis Pankratov's 100 butterfly. In a monumental effort, he set his fourth world record in one week. His time of 51.78 brought the crowd to its feet for an ovation that lasted several minutes. "The last struggle is always the most difficult," he said, wincing. "I wouldn't have been upset had I not done it, but it happened, the same story: I just tried to be first." Regarding his overall performance during the World Cup, he added, in true perfectionist fashion, "It's a pity I was disqualified in Gelsenkirchen, but I was glad to get the 50 (world record) here. That was more important."

Konstantin Ushkov was second in 52.56, saying, "There is no shame in being second to Pankratov."

Nina Zhivanevskaya buckled the Backstroke category with her victory in the 100 (59.97). After a very successful World Cup, she exclaimed, "I just can't believe that it's all over!"

A nice moment for the home crowd was Xavier Marchand's win in the 200 individual medley. The French swimmer was challenged all the way by Germany's Christian Keller, but came out on top in 1:58.79, with Keller close behind in 1:58.87.

27-year-old Jörg Hoffmann of Germany capped off a successful, if not completely satisfying, World Cup with his final win in the men's 800 freestyle (7:37.54). Despite having narrowly missed the world record in the 400 freestyle in Gelsenkirchen, the 1991 world champion is back in ship shape and hopes that his longevity will last until the World Championships in Perth. He won both the 400 and 800 freestyle races at four different World Cup competitions, taking top honours in the Distance category (80 pts).

Finally, Huijue Cai of China's win in the 50 butterfly (26.71) added her to the tie for first place in the Butterfly; together with Denmark's Mette Jacobsen and her compatriot Limin Liu, she took home a third of the total prize money for the category $4,167.00 each!

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