SWIMNEWS ONLINE: January 1997 Magazine Articles

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Anita Lonsbrough

The refurbished Neptun Swimming Arena in Rostock in the former East Germany had previously seen 12 world best times, so it was a fitting venue for the inaugural European Short Course Championships, held December 12 to 15. Nine of those times had been recorded by the East German female swimmers during the period when they dominated world swimming.

The outstanding swimmer of the championships was Sandra Volker of Germany, closely followed by Sweden's Johanna Sjoberg, but neither of these women won the "Top Female Swimmer of the Championships." This award went to Britain's Susan Rolph, almost as a consolation prize after it was announced her time of 2:10.60 in the 200 I.M., which equalled the fastest time ever recorded by a European woman and the standard set by LEN for a European record, would not be regarded as a record since the standard time had to be bettered.

Prize money for European records motivated Germany's Sandra Volker to continental best for 50 and 100 free
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Sandra Volker, the 22-year-old from Hamburg, won the 50 and 100 freestyles and the 50 backstroke, and was pipped to the post by Johanna Sjoberg in both the 50 and 100 butterfly. The triple Olympic medallist opened her busy three days of competition with the runner-up spot in a closely contested 50 butterfly. Her Swedish rival got the better of her in the closing stage. Both swimmers were inside the previous record of 27.25 held by Inge de Bruin of the Netherlands. Johanna's time of 27.15 was 8/100 s ahead of Sandra.

Johanna claimed "I didn't notice at all that I achieved the first European record at Rostock. That's fantastic, particularly because prize money is being paid for the first time. I had reckoned with a medal, but certainly not with gold."

Later in the same program, Sandra was back in action, this time the 100 freestyle where she finished nearly 1.5 s ahead of Susan Rolph, who produced a personal best of 54.46. Sandra's time of 53.04 missed the world record held by China's Le Jingyi by only 3/100 s.

Afterwards, the German swimmer felt "I would have achieved a world record if I hadn't competed in the 50 fly just 30 minutes before the race. I think I can swim under 53 seconds. I was also happy with my 50 fly race where I remained under the previous European record, even though I lost."

Day two was just as busy for Sandra Volker. In her first event of the day, Johanna Sjoberg once again held the upper hand, this time in the 100 butterfly when she established her second European record of 58.80, finishing 64/100 s ahead of her German rival. Johanna's time lowered the ten-year-old previous best held by Kornelia Gressler. Sandra was just 9/100 s outside the record.

Afterwards, Johanna admitted "I was quite nervous before the start because I thought I had a further chance to beat Sandra after my win yesterday. At present, I am stronger over the short course."

She went on to explain "I don't yet know how to spend the 10,000 Marks ($8,500) prize money for my two European records. I'll put it in the bank first of all. Perhaps I'll use the money for a vacation after the World Short Course Championships in Gothenburg." The 18-year-old high school student's aims for 1997 are the World Short Course Championships and the European Championships in Seville, adding "It will be a funny feeling to compete for the first time at home in an international event in Gothenburg."

Undeterred by a second defeat, Sandra was back in the water for the 50 freestyle where she was in winning form, lowering her own European record, which she jointly held with Franziska van Almsick, by 8/100 s to 24.67. In second spot was Britain's Susan Rolph, who lowered her own national mark by 23/100 s with a swim of 25.32.

Afterwards, a satisfied Sandra Volker claimed "I'm quite happy with my performances so far in my individual competitions, even though I was a bit disappointed after losing the 100 fly to Johanna. The more convincing was my performance in the freestyle sprint after just 25 minutes rest after the 100 fly. The prize money for records is a special incentivethe High Street shops may be pleased because I haven't yet bought my Christmas presents."

With a much shorter rest of about ten minutes, Susan Rolph found herself back in competition, this time in the 100 I.M. In the morning heats, the 18-year-old from Newcastle came within 37/100 s of the world best time held by Sweden's Louise Karlsson, with a time of 1:01.40, the second-fastest time ever recorded. Susan felt sure that she could get under the Swedish swimmer's time but not with such a short recovery period. On the final 25 m her earlier effort took its toll and she had to fight hard to hold off a fast-finishing Martina Moravcova. Susan's winning time of 1:01.94 gave her gold by just 4/100 s.

After she got her breath back, Susan said "That was really close. I'm happy with my 50 freestyle and to break the British record. My legs felt heavy on the last length of the medley. I've never been under 62 (seconds) before and now I've done it twice." Her next chance at the world best time will be at the World Cup meet in Glasgow.

The third and final day of finals saw Sandra Volker complete a hat trick of individual titles. Her 27.94 in the 50 backstroke may have been 27/100 s off her own European mark, but it was too good, by 61/100 s, for her rivals. She also anchored the German quartet, which included Antje Buschschulte, Sylvia Gerasch, and Julia Voitowitsch, to a World best time in the 200 medley relay. The relay team's time of 1:51.79 was 1.01 s ahead of the Netherlands.

On January 6, Sandra will fly to Perth for a three-week training camp. She has chosen Perth because it is where the next World Long Course Championships will be held and she feels she needs to "get used to the venue." While in Perth, she will prepare short course for the World Short Course Championships in April. The triple European short course champion who will soon study German and media communications for a Bachelor of Arts degree, feels that "adding the short course titles is as equally important as the long course."

It was not such a happy day for Johanna Sjoberg and Susan Rolph. The Swedish star was denied a hat trick of butterfly victories when Spain's Barbara Franco moved ahead in the final 25 m of the 200 butterfly to win by 72/100 s in 2:10.20.

Susan, who put her new-found form down to "feeling happy within myself," produced a British record time of 2:10.60 in the 200 I.M., which equalled the standard set for a European record. Before the championships started, the LEN officials had decided that to win the 5000 Marks ($4300) prize, a record had to be broken and not equalled, so Susan's time will go down in the history books as equalling the fifth fastest time, but she will not be given the record.

An amazed Susan admitted "That's a fantastic time for me. I'm totally surprised and happy. I would never have dreamed to win two titles here and improve my best time on 200 individually medley by more than two seconds."

As the female swimmer of the meet, she won a leather jacket but said afterwards, "I don't want a jacket. I had one before I came here. You can't spend a leather jacket. I just want my name against the record." But that was not to be.

The male swimmer of the meet should have been (in my eyes, as the winner was not decided on the LEN points table) the Dutch swimmer, Marcel Wouda, who won all three medley races. His 400 I.M. time has only been bettered by three swimmers, but instead, the title went to Germany's Lars Conrad, who won the 100 and 200 freestyles. He dominated both races from the start. His 100 freestyle time of 48.90 placed him 59/100 s ahead of Romania's Nicolae Butacu. Lars admitted "It wasn't an improvement to my time at the German nationals. I had expected others much stronger." In the 200 freestyle, his time of 1:45.97 placed him 1.38 s ahead of Britain's Andrew Clayton. Lars was delighted with his time. "I would never have thought that I would go that well. I'm overwhelmed by myself."

Marcel Wouda sustained a knee injury after the 1995 European Championships, which hampered his preparation for the Atlanta Olympics, and so took just five weeks rest after the Games. The 24-year-old from Eindhoven led throughout the four-length race, which was closely contested. He admitted afterwards that "it was a fast race. Today Jens Kruppa could have won as well. It was just the faster touch." That faster touch gave him victory in the 100 I.M. in 54.62.

Twenty-four hours later and the distance doubled, Marcel Wouda beat another German swimmer. This time it was Christian Keller who had to settle for second best. Marcel's 1:56.83 time was a mystery to him. "I really don't know where this good time comes from."

Christian Keller, the 24-year-old from Essen, was again the runner up in the 400 I.M., where Marcel believed "I'm dreaming. This incredible personal improvement by three seconds. Not many swimmers in the world clock 4:08. I wish Finland's Jani Sievinen would have been here. I always want to compete with the best. Perhaps I'll be able to attack Sievinen's world record next year." Marcel's time, in fact, ranks him fourth on the all-time ranking list.

Mark Foster, who failed bitterly in Atlanta, was back to winning form. But with many of his top rivals absent, his victories were not unexpected. The 26-year-old has changed coaches yet again in search of the swimming glory he so desperately wants. He has now joined up with Ian Turner, coach of Olympic silver medallist Paul Palmer.

Mark so very nearly slipped up in the 50 butterfly, qualifying as the sixth and final qualifier for the final. But in the final he made no mistakes. Using his very strong start, he was ahead all the way, finishing in 23.91, 16/100 s ahead of Germany's Fabian Hieronimus. Mark Foster completed a sprint double with a 22.25 in the 50 freestyle and admitted afterwards "The 50 metre competitions suit me very well with my explosive start."

Although several of the top names were absent, the European Short Course Championships proved successful, with many exciting and close races. Championships are about those who compete, not those who stay away.

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