PARIS-Two world records gave a boost to the finale of the World Cup circuit in Paris. Britain's James Hickman started the ball rolling just as he had promised in Sheffield two weeks earlier, with a fantastic 1:51.76 in the 200 butterfly.
His reaction: "I thought I could get close, but to smash it like that was unbelievable."The 88/100ths of a second shaved off Denis Pankratov's (RUS) thirteen month-old mark was a seemingly unthinkable improvement, but Hickman credits "a strong mental approach" as the main thing instilled in him by his new coach, Terry Denison.
Like all outstanding swims it was a perfect race, with perfect turns and eight strokes per length after the first 25. Compared to Pankratov's swim Hickman, 22, was slower over the first half but much faster coming home. Strength is something he knows he must build on to tackle the race long course.
Russian breaststroker Andrei Korneev followed shortly on Hickman's heels with a world record in the 200 breaststroke. His time of 2:07.79 was 1/100 of a second inside Phil Roger's 1993 mark. Perhaps ironically, it also wiped out Nick Gillingham's (GBR) European record. At the Atlanta Olympics Korneev finished third ahead of Gillingham but was disqualified after testing positive for the stimulant bromantan. The Russians appealed the test and Korneev was reinstated, pushing Gillingham back to fourth place; he is still fighting his case.
It was a record filled-afternoon. Brigitte Becue (BEL) lowered her own European record in the 100 breaststroke. Her time of 1:06.87 shaved 15/100 seconds off the record she established at the Sydney World Cup opener two months ago. Mark Warnecke (GER) equalled his own world record in the 50 breaststroke (26.97) for the third time in two years.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Hickman got back in the water for the 100 IM and displayed a much improved breaststroke leg; Hickman surged through the water, very reminiscent of Adrian Moorhouse (also coached by Denison), beating out such favourites as Wouda, Germany's Christian Keller, and Russia's Sergei Sergeev with a time of 54.54. Alexander Popov had an off day that saw him beaten by Brazilian Gustavo Borges in the 100 freestyle. The pain on Popov's face was plain to see, and not even a consoling word from Aussie training partner Michael Klim could put a smile on his face. For Borges, it was a personal best of 47.66 seconds, the fourth fastest time ever. But by the time the medals were presented, Popov had recovered his good humour and, the true sportsman he is, congratulated his rival.
Day two was no better for Popov, who got caught by the no false start rule. Eager to get a good start in the 50 and avenge his loss to Italy's Lorenzo Vismara three days earlier in Imperia, he jumped too soon and was disqualified, leaving Vismara to win in 21.94. Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband wanted a piece of the first day's action in the 200 freestyle, but with no serious opposition he had to push the pace himself. He missed out on Giorgio Lamberti's world record (1:43.64) but nevertheless clocked the third fastest time ever in 1:44.13. He went 1:43.83 in Sydney.
Hickman was on a high after his exploits on the first day, and although world record-holder Klim tried valiantly to hold off his flying rival, it was Hickman's day again in the 100 butterfly. He missed Klim's world mark but managed an impressive 51.46, a hair over his European mark of 51.40 set in Sydney in January. He went on to produce another staggering performance, this time in the 200 IM, where his time of 1:55.80 was second only to Jani Sievinen's (FIN) world record mark of 1:54.65.