GOTEBORG - The 1997 Short Course Swimming World Championships "came together," so to speak, April 17 - 20 in the Scandinavium arena.
Compared with the two previous editions of this event, the high-calibre turnout was impressive. Over 500 swimmers from 70 different countries flocked to Gšteborg - up from 46 in Palma de Mallorca in 1993 and 56 in Rio de Janeiro in 1995. Nations competing for the first time included Austria, Barbados, Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, and Uzbekistan. Top swimming nations such as China, Australia, and Russia brought large teams, and the presence of a majority of defending champions attested to the fact that many, if not most, are taking these championships seriously. Indeed, those who brushed them off as "second rate" had little to say when the four days were over.
They were also the second such championships to be held in a temporary pool, and it seems clear that this will be an obvious option in the future; the greater spectator capacity of such an arrangement is not only positive for the organizers but also for the profile of the sport. The stands in Gšteborg were nearly filled on Thursday and Friday, and the weekend was sold out.
The 8-lane pool, provided by the Swedish company Invarmex Steel AB, was installed in the already existing Scandinavium only 10 days before the competition. It took up half of the hockey arena and spectator seating around the pool was for approximately 6000. The pool structure weighed more than 1000 tons, and the tank held short of a million litres of water. The water was pumped in from a neighbouring 50 m training pool. Construction of the pool took 72 hours, as did the dismantling when the meet was over. In just a few days the arena was transformed yet again for a horse show.
This was the meet where the Swedes strutted their stuff for a thundering home crowd; the fans were equipped with flags, noisemakers, cheerleaders, and bodypaint, and the charged atmosphere made for a brilliant meet. The Swedes took gold on all but one night, and countless swimmers of all nationalities commented on how the fantastic crowd had pumped them up.
It was the meet where defending world champion Claudia Poll of Costa Rica left no doubt (was there any left at all?) as to her prowess. Long course or short course, Poll's performances are always technically noteworthy, and her exploits in Gšteborg left us simply breathless. She was truly the swimmer and performer of the meet, even if the awarding of a "best performance" trophy (based on the performance tables, and misused in this instance) to American Jenny Thompson implied otherwise.
While reigning world champion and world record-holder Jingyi Le of China was not up to the challenge of American or German forces, she and her teammates hardly slouched. World record relays were among the tricks they had up their sleeves.
Finally, Gšteborg was the site of another FINA Bureau meeting, and the resulting competition calendar will leave little time for doodling. Long course World Championships will be held every two years (instead of four) following Perth, and short course World Championships will be held in 1999, 2000, 2002, and 2004. Unfortunately for Canada, Edmonton lost out on its bid to host the 1999 edition of this competition; that rendezvous is slated for Hong Kong, which by that time will be holding its own under China's umbrella. But given the above, Edmonton's turn will soon come!