1999 Pan Pacific Championships

Ten World Records Tumble

>Americans Edge Australia In Final Race


Nick J. Thierry and Paul Quinlan

It was a week of great athletic feats - the best competition many veterans can remember. Great anticipation and interest was generated by the match-up between Australia and the top swimming power - the United States.

For the first time in 50 years, the powerful Australian men's team challenged the perennial powerhouse Americans for supremacy.

The record tally of 10 world records, with two additional in time trials, compared well with recent major competitions. At the 1998 Worlds there were no records and at the 1996 Olympics there were only four. The most records were set at the 1976 Olympics with 29, and 19 at the 1992 Olympic Games.

Three world records for 16-year-old Ian Thorpe (AUS)
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Darrin Braybrook/Sport The Library

The Sydney Olympic pool is magnificent and without doubt contributed greatly to exciting atmosphere. Final sessions were soldout for the eight days. Channel 9 put the finals sessions on prime time for the duration and Australians embraced Olympic sports. Since it opened in 1994, the most popular swimming meet at Homebush Bay had been the 1996 Australian Olympic Trials, attended by just more that 42,000. On the last day of the Pan Pacs a record attendance of 5,214 brought the eight-day total to 55,243.

The pool will now undergo expansion to increase seating to 17,000 for the Olympics.

For most of the competition an Australian win looked possible but in the ultimate irony, the competition came down to the final men's 4x100 medley relay. The Americans beat Australia, who were subsequently disqualified. That gave them a tie in golds at 13 each, but not in overall medals (35 to 32) or team points (391 to 372). The Americans rule for another year.

"I would have liked to win on all three counts," Australian Head Coach Don Talbot said. "The men's relay team was going very well but unfortunately they died, got shot, killed, disqualified, whichever way you'd like to put it."

This last-minute set-back should be a warning and guard against the creep of complacency leading into the Olympic year. Talbot said this was the best Australian men's team of all time.

American coach Mark Schubert said this was the greatest swimming meet in 30 years. "The Australians are definitely the second nation in the world of swimming, by about 2/10ths of a second.

"We got a tremendous challenge from Australia. I was expecting it and I expect even better next year.

"For us Americans it became a matter of pride after the third day when we were getting shellacked. That motivated us more than anything."

Canadians had the difficulty of peaking twice - at the Pan Ams during the first week of August and two weeks later at the Pan Pacs. Canadian Head Coach Dave Johnson said, "We swam against well-rested Australian and American teams and were still able to put up solid performances in some cases better than at the Pan Ams.

"We learned that if you want to medal at the Olympics you're going to have to be at world-record levels in your events."

The Olympics return to Australia next year for the first time since 1956 - the last time Australians won more golds than the USA in a major meet.

The eight-day format with semi-finals worked well, but versatile swimmers will have to pick their events carefully next year. "I'm not sure what I'll do," Jenny Thompson (USA) said. Winner of six golds (three individual and three relay) she explained, "It was pretty tough coming from the 50 free medal ceremony and swim the medley relay. I'm sure others will be in the same situation."

Big stars of the competition were 16-year-old Ian Thorpe (AUS) with three individual world records, and a fourth on the Australian men's 4x200 free relay.

Penny Heyns (RSA) continued to dazzle with her four world records on top of the four from July to make her one of the all-time greats of women's breaststroke.

Backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg (USA), so near so often, finally broke through with a sweep of all three world records and Jenny Thompson (USA) erased an 18-year-old record in the 100 butterfly.

Other standouts were Joanne Malar (CAN) winning both individual medleys; Brooke Bennett (USA) sweeping the women's distance free events, the Japanese women backstrokers, Simon Cowley (AUS) sweeping both men's breaststrokes, Grant Hackett (AUS) winner of the 1500 free, and Michael Klim (AUS) winner of the 100 free and 100 fly, and a key member of the three Australian relays.

South Africans had a major impact, with Brendon Dedekind winning the 50 free, much-improved Ryk Neethling gaining medals in the 200-400-1500 free, and Sarah Poewe, finishing third in the women's 200 breaststroke.

Canadian records fell to Yannick Lupien with a 49.94 - the first under 50 seconds - in the men's 100 free and Laura Nicholls with a 55.94 in the women's 100 free. Both finished fourth in the final. Malar bettered her 200 IM record twice and the men's and women's 4x100 free relays set new standards.

A comparison with the European Championships held a month before in Turkey show that Pan Pac men's results were vastly superior in 13 of 16 events. In women's events winning times were faster at Pan Pacs in 11 events.

At the end of the competition, the scoreboard displayed a final message: "Goodbye and see you next year at the Olympics."

It can't come quickly enough.