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Bousquet: 20.94 WR 50F At Dawn Of New Sport

Apr 26, 2009  - Craig Lord

Fred Bousquet did world swimming a favour tonight at French nationals: he confirmed that swimming as we knew it is well and truly dead. He did so by clocking 20.94 over 50m freestyle. That'll be a world record by 0.34sec and 0.70sec faster than the world record stood to Alex Popov (RUS) at the start of 2008. Behind Bousquet, Alain Bernard was also inside Eamon Sullivan's 21.28 world record, on 21.23, but will not race at world championships in Rome: Amaury Leveaux, preselected as Olympic silver medallist, clocked 21.59. What a lazy boy. In fourth, Fabien Gilot, on 21.65, that's 0.01sec slower than Popov's former world record.

The sprint Tsar's best - cracked by Eamon Sullivan in February 2008 (that's just over a year ago) is now the 25th best performance. Coach Gennadi Touretski must be feeling like his coaching skills and those 15 years of steady and careful honing of the most successful sprint career in swimming history are something from the book of Noah.  

Bousquet came to Montpellier with a 2008-LZR best of 21.53 and before that, in 2007 22.31, and in 2006 a lifetime best of 21.99. He is now the first sub-21 man in history - nit the history of swimming, you understand, but the first sub-20sec man at the dawn of a new sport. The old one is dead, well and truly. FINA, the eyes of the world are upon you as you prepare your list of suits for Rome.

Back in 6th place in a domestic final, on a 22.14, a time good enough for a medal behind Popov in both his Olympic victories and a medal in all world finals that Popov raced in throughout his career, was David Maitre, a glimpse of a bygone age.

And for those who will ask: no, I don't feel like celebrating what might have been a wow moment in swimming history. Now at all. Shame for Fred, nothing personal - but this is a moment for sadness, not celebration. 

The new all-time top 10, with a range that beggars belief:

  • 20.94 Bousquet FRA
  • 21.23 Bernard FRA
  • 21.28 Sullivan AUS
  • 21.30 Cielo BRA
  • 21.38 Leveaux FRA
  • 21.47 Weber-Gale USA
  • 21.59 Jones USA
  • 21.62 Callus AUS
  • 21.64 Popov RUS
  • 21.64 Wildman-Tobriner USA

Right, I'm going to have dinner with the boys and my wife. I was never a great fan of circus acts. This file will be updated a little later after a more believable bedtime story.

So, the deed is done. I read them The Emperor of Absurdia by the brilliant illustrator Chris Riddell. "And as the sky fish snored in the umbrella trees ... he [that's the emperor] had the most extraordinary dream", the story ends.

A silent "someone clocked 20.94 over 50m freestyle a year after 21.64 had been the world record" went through my mind. Absurd indeed.

The French nationals have highlighted the inevitable journey that was sure to unfold the moment that FINA said yes to the LZR. It was a huge mistake. A mistake that will only be corrected if every single one of those suits that have swept France past itself and, in some cases, the world, in Montpellier is banished from the bath. Only if all suits that caused a flood of world records in 2008 are removed from the water in current guise. That is entirely down to FINA.

Franck Esposito, bronze in the 200 butterfly at the 1992 Barcelona Games and stll going strong just a few years back, is now in coaching. He said: "You see average swimmers with outstanding performances. It is becoming ridiculous." Quite so. 

Spaniard Rafael Munoz, who pulverised the 50 butterfly world record wearing a Jaked suit this month and set a 100 butterfly European record just 0.06sec shy of Ian Crocker on Saturday, said: "My times don’t depend on the suit because if you throw it into the water it doesn’t move by itself. It also has less buoyancy than others. It repels the water and could give some advantage but my times can only be achieved with a lot of work."

No problem Rafa. I will get a suit maker to send you a fine suit made for the 2006-07 season. Your part of the bargain is clear: you swim in that suit in the final of the 100 'fly in Rome and then we'll see where your hard work has taken you to. A place of excellence, doubtless. But not a place of dreams beyond your natural capacity. That bit is down to your suit. No question whatsoever. Crocker set his time in a suit that went nowhere close to helping in the way your suit does: he remains the better 100m 'fly swimmer - and not only by 0.06sec.

Which is why Lionel Horter said this but also says that he will now do everything he can to make sure his 4x100m freestyle team (and others) have the suit that will make them the fastest. It is down to FINA, he says, to make sure that the suit does not count in that way. That, say many, will not happen in time for Rome. Within two weeks, we will probably know to what extent FINA's independent suit testing process has understood the crisis in the sport and been able to find the lab science suitable to match the science of numbers that is unarguable: the sport has been floated, buoyed and enhanced into the future ahead of its time in a fast-forward motion that has transfigured the sport. The world records are the tip of an iceberg of metamorphosis: the all-time world rankings are now floode with 2008-09 times. In some events, there are more entries from 2009 (first four months) in the top 20 than there are from any other year, and well before the bug event of the summer and before the USA has had any impact of note on the long-course rankings this year. Absurd.

Here is something to consider. The first column is the swimmer at 20 years of age, followed by best times in each subsequent season. You can work out what I'm getting at:

  • Biondi 22.65; 22.33; 22.33; 22.14; 22.36; 21.85; 22.14; 22.09 (retired 1992, Olympic champion and world record holder, 50m free)
  • Jager 23.02; 22.40; 22.49; 22.32; 22.32; 22.23; 22.12; 21.81; 22.16; 22.17; 23.48 (comeback year); 22.52; 22.75; 22.85 (retired for good 1996).
  • Popov 22.78; 21.91; 22.27; 22.17; 22.25 22.13; 22.30; 22.25; 22.27; 22.06; 21.64; 21.91; 22.03; 21.92; 22.26 (retired 2004, double Olympic and world champion - 50m free, WR 21.64 from 2000-2008)
  • Hall Jr 22.44; 22.30; 22.27; 22.91; 22.40; 22.13; 21.76; 22.15; 22.49; 22.43; 21.91 (double Olympic champion after silver in 1996)
  • Cielo 22.92 (at 18); 22.32; 21.84; 21.30; 22.08 so far (Olympic champion 2008)
  • Sullivan 22.59; 22.00; 22.05; 21.28; 21.96 so far (world record holder, March 2008-April 09)
  • Bernard 22.82; 22.64; 22.69; 22.32; 22.20; 21.49; 21.23

Bousquet 23.23; 23.13; 22.47; 22.24; 22.21; 22.20; 22.31; 21.53; 20.94

So back to Bousquet. We have seen him excel in relay splits in the past and there have been some very fast moments and flashes of truly special speed. However, his career record until 2008 was, well, one world championship final: 7th in 2005, and no Olympic finals during seven years of his senior career. There has been nothing to suggest that here was a man capable of going 20.94 long-course 50m free. Nothing. 

"I had thought about this time all season," said the man from Perpignan who trains in Marseilles when home and at Auburn in the US. "When I touched the wall, I thought about all the work I have done over the years and I was already thinking about Rome." So, no thought at all about the suit. No mention of thinking about the difference between Fred Bousquet and Fred Bousquet in a Jaked? I don't believe it. Otherwise, Bousquet would have worn something else. 

Down Under, news of the loss of Sullivan's 100m mark was not going down well. Alan Thompson, head coach, told The Australian: "There's a new world record application form that came out last month in which you have to list what suit was worn and whether all FINA rules were followed. I think it would set a dangerous precedent if this was approved, and everyone will be watching it. It's a bit like the situation when Libby (Trickett) broke the world record racing Michael Phelps and her record was not ratified. That was not an approved event and this is not an approved suit."

No, it is not. But it does no more than the LZR, which set the crisis rolling and was responsible for the flood of world records last year, including the Aussie records. 

In Montpellier, the 20.94 world record brought to an end a controversial five days of nationals that saw two world, four European and 29 French records tumble in full polyurethane suits (four others fell in older versions of fast suits) at the helm of a wave of big personal best times down through the ranks. The atmosphere on the deck, more market place than race pool, according to some observers, was described by some leading swimmers and coache sas "poisonous". A "bloody mess", said Amaury Leveaux, while his coach and France head coach said that these had been the worst days of his career.

Romanian Camelia Potec was hardly noticed as she cracked out a European record of 15:52.37 in the 1,500m freestyle to set herself up as title favourite in Rome. That time was 0.47sec inside the mark of Alessia Filippi, and Italian who will doubtless be limbering up in her Jaked special. No telling what might happen - but if FINA do not get it right, 1994 and all that will come back to haunt the sport this summer - in the new clothes of the Emperor of Absurdia.