The 1997 Mare Nostrum tour, while less spectacular than previous years, carried on with quality lineups under the sun of Barcelona and the menacing rainclouds - now par for the course - of Canet-en-Roussillon.
The tour, which kicked off in Monte Carlo May 24-25, typically draws an impressive crowd of competitors from Europe. While numbers were down this year (especially the French!), the ever more lucrative prize money attracted a healthy crop of Australians, Americans, Chinese and, this year, Canadians, all eager for racing and valuable international experience, not to mention cash.
Finland's Jani Sievinen made the Barcelona meet his first long course appearance since the bitter disappointment of losing gold at the Atlanta Olympics, and while he lost the 400 IM to flying Dutchman Marcel Wouda (4:23.66 behind Wouda's 4:22.21), he managed to impose in his specialty, the 200 IM, with a 2:02.00. Sievinen declared himself satisfied with his performances, but did not compete in Canet. Wouda was runner-up the 200 in Barcelona (2:02.81), and won both IMs in Canet (2:02.6; 4:22.39).
Denis Pankratov, claiming he was tired after Russian Nationals, was unusually stingy with his efforts this year. After showing up only for the warm-ups in Monte Carlo, he mustered a 100 butterfly victory in Barcelona, but his 53.61 was hardly exploit material with Denis Silantiev and Michael Klim hot on his heels. His coach, Viktor Avdienko, announced that his protg would be "very fast" in Canet, and when he stood behind the blocks for the 200 butterfly, meet organizers held their breath, reminiscent of the world record (1:55.22) he set two years ago. But despite vigourous work on his underwater technique and seemingly endless directives from Avdienko, it was not to be: Pankratov was under world record pace for 100 metres before he began to fade. His final time of 1:57.34 nevertheless earned him the top performance of the meet, together with Claudia Poll (200 free). The two split the combined prize money, taking home 22,500FF (about $5,000 Canadian) each.
Whatever the weather, Poll always shines in Canet. The Costa Rican wundermdchen clocked 1:58.18 in the 200 freestyle and 4:10.56 in the 400, before wrapping up the meet with a victory in the 100 (56.40). With a mere four weeks of long course training after her world record exploits in Sweden in April, Poll seems to have had no problem with the transition. Freestyle records will be in jeopardy this summer, and Germany's Franziska van Almsick, out of commission with a hand injury, will be powerless to oppose Poll's carefully planned takeover.
The maple leaves were out in force in the women's medleys. Olympic silver medallist Marianne Limpert and teammate Karine Chevrier went one-two respectively (2:17.87; 2:18.71) in the 200 IM in Barcelona, with Ariane Legendre finishing not far behind in 5th (2:20.31). Chevrier added a silver in the 400 IM (4:52.92). Limpert had the best of intentions for the 200 IM in Canet, hoping to approach a 2:15 low, but fatigue and the cold weather made it tough. She managed a 2:17.06 for the win, with Chevrier behind her in 2:19.53. Legendre was 4th in 2:21.52.
Deburghraeve: Gold is weighing him down
Olympic gold medals are not all they're cracked up to be for some. Belgian breaststroker Fred Deburghraeve is down in the dumps and, according to his coach, Ronald Gaastra, "fed up with the limelight."
The swimmer has been doing lots of small competitions and public appearances, but is unable to keep up with the requests for his presence. He is so inundated with phone calls that Gaastra has advised him to drop out of sight for a while.
"I'm going to put him in a closet for a while, change his phone number, and he'll be unreachable for everyone but me. He needs to get his private life back," said Gaastra.
Deburghraeve swam a 1:03.93 to come fourth in the 100 breaststroke in Barcelona and was so disappointed with it that he didn't swim in Canet. Gaastra is confident that his protg will come around, citing motivation and lack of objectives as the main problem.
"Physically he's OK. He's still training, but he's still got to do it all by himself. He's still so talented but just fed up with everything around swimming."
The two will decide in July if Deburghraeve is ready to compete in Sevilla.
Cash is in good taste
One could not help but notice the pleasing, and decidedly unusual, displays of joy by Chinese swimmers on the podium in Canet-en-Roussillon. Apparently the idea of winning hard cash - every gold medal in Canet is worth 2000FF (about $450 Canadian) - had swimmers like Huijue Cai, Yan Chen, and Ying Shan beside themselves with excitement. Not surprising, as the amount represents more than twice the average monthly salary in China. A pleasant bonus, that is hopefully theirs to keep.