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US Catches Up For A Shiny-Suited Summer

Jul 7, 2009  - Craig Lord

File updated with quotes

Day one of the US world-championship trials at the Indiana University Natatorium showed that the aquatic superpower is ready to wear whatever it takes and will challenge for podium places and titles in events up to 200m in Rome. The bursts of the day came from Mark Gangloff and his Jaked01, together wiping a second off the swimmer's best 100m breaststroke time for a 59.01sec victory to leap from 24th to 2nd fastest all-time, and Tyler Clary, who swam a big pb of 4:11 in the 400m medley heats and then leapt again for a 4:06.96 time in the final that gave him his first USA senior selection.

Olympic bronze medallist Ryan Lochte had company from Clary from the click. A man waving goodbye to his teenage years, Clary got the touch on butterfly 55.09 to 55.42; stayed ahead of the world 200m backstroke record holder on backstroke to turn in 1:56.14, 0.45sec inside world-record pace of Michael Phelps and ahead of Lochte's 1:57.70; maintained the lead on breaststroke, 3:07.49 (1.5 behind Phelps's Beijing best) to 3:08.32; before Lochte, wearing only jammers, decided enough was enough, dug deep and got the edge over the pretended by the end to win 4:06.40 to 4:06.96.

The race marked an amazing leap in form for Clary, 20 this year. He had a 4:14.13 best last year, set a best of 4:11.29 in heats to rise from 23rd to 10th fastest all-time and now finds himself 4th best ever three seconds ahead of the world that swims a grade below Phelps (4:03.84), Lochte (4:06.08) and Laszlo Cseh (HUN), 4:06.16. A phenomenal performance by Clary, though, in common with much else being witnessed in the lost summer of 2009, we must wait for 2010 at least (regrettably for him and swimming as a whole) to know what the newcomer is capable of when rested without a shiny suit to help him. 

Chances are that Clary will emerge in healthy state after the suits are gone, as they surely will be in the not-too-distant future.  In contrast to Lochte, who said that this is his last summer of racing the 400m medley, Clary told reporters in Indy: "I love the event. People will see a great 400 I.M. and they'll know how much training and straight-up guts it took.'"

Four women raced inside 57.8 in the 100m butterfly. They field was led by Christine Magnuson, on 57.15, while Dana Vollmer secured the second berth for Rome with a 57.32 effort that locked Elaine Breeden out by 0.14sec. Mary Descenza was last home inside the 58sec mark, on 57.77. Three sub-59s and a 59.31 completed a final in which the US champion and Olympic silver medallist was alone in not establishing a personal best, and then missing it by just 0.07sec.

Magnuson's American record stands at an LZR 57.08, not that far from the 2000 global standard of Inge de Bruijn (NED), her 56.61 clocked in the first Olympic season of bodysuits and FINA's victory at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that the international federation had every right to set any rules that it wished to. We are still waiting for the sensible ones to take shape on suits. Could Magnuson get to De Bruijn's best in Rome? "Why not? It's definitely one of my goals I'm shooting for," said the US champ who will doubtless have access to the tools she needs to do the job if she so chooses at the circus that gets underway in the race pool at the Foro Italico on July 26.

In Indy, the women's 200m medley produced a nervy final in which Julia Smit dominated to stop the clock in 2:09.34, an American record and the third sub-2:10 effort in the US, but the next three home were split by just 0.08sec. Compared to Stephanie Rice, world record holder and Olympic champion, Smit's biggest strength was a sub-37sec breaststroke split that brought her in line with times that have been swum this year by Britain's Hannah Miley and France's Camille Muffat.

In Indy, four women clocked 2:11s and three 2:12s to make the final the fastest closing 200m line-up in history, with Whitney Myers in eighth with a 2:12.66. The second berth for Rome went to Elizabeth Pelton, in 2:11.03, followed by Ariana Kukors, who on 2:11.07, missed out by just 0.04sec. They were followed by 

  • Dagny Knutson 2:11.11
  • Elizabeth Beisel 2:11.80
  • Caitlin Leverenz 2:12.06
  • Justine Mueller 2:12.35
  • Whitney Myers 2:12.66

Smith and Mueller, down from 2:13.40, were the only two to set personal bests, though all but Kukors and Myers had already established sizeable best times this season. Pelton's best in 2008 was 2:19.24. She is 16 this year. Six of the fastest all-time US top 10 are from 2009.

The 100m breaststroke saw the 100% shiny suits kick in, as they have done across the world this season. Here is the result in Indy, where Mark Gangloff axed 1.09sec off his best time for the second-best effort ever behind the world record of 58.91, set in a Speedo LZR by Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) on his way to retaining the Olympic crown in Beijing:

  • Mark Gangloff 59.01 (USA record and 2nd fastest all-time, off a 27.64 split)
  • Eric Shanteau 59.45
  • Marcus Titus 1:00.00
  • Scott Spann 1:00.54
  • Matthew Lowe 1:00.56
  • Robert Lovelace 1:00.65
  • George Klein 1:00.99
  • Clark Burckle 1:01.78

And here was the all-time top ten in the US coming into Indy:

  • 59.13 Hansen
  • 1:00.09 Shanteau
  • 1:00.10 Gangloff
  • 1:00.21 Moses
  • 1:00.59 Spann
  • 1:00.77 Linn
  • 1:00.81 Swander
  • 1:00.82 Roberts
  • 1:00.97 Usher 
  • 1:01.09 Calhoun

There are now 22 members of the sub-minute club. At the beginning of February 2008, there were just 3 members and the all-time top 10 looked like this: 

  • 59.13 Hansen USA
  • 59.53 Kitajima JPN
  • 59.94 Sludnov RUS
  • 1:00.02 Mew GBR
  • 1:00.05 Duboscq FRA
  • 1:00.06 Lisogor UKR
  • 1:00.21 Moses USA
  • 1:00.24 Gangloff USA
  • 1:00.34 Dale Oen NOR
  • 1:00.37 Gibson GBR

Now, it lookes like this, with textile suits noted:

  • 58.91 Kitajima JPN
  • 59.01 Gangloff USA 
  • 59.03 Barbosa BRA
  • 59.13 Hansen USA (2006 textile)
  • 59.16 Dale Oen NOR (2008 textile)
  • 59.37 Duboscq FRA 
  • 59.45 Feldwehr GER
  • 59.45 Shanteau USA
  • 59.48 Tateishi JPN
  • 59.50 Stekelenburg NED
  • 59.53 Borysik UKR
  • 22nd all-time:
  • 59.96 Van der Burgh RSA 

It is likely to take a suit beyond the LZR in terms of poly content to win in Rome. "You just feel differently all over," Shanteau told The Washington Post's reachforthewall.com.  "The way these suits are, you sit differently in the water." Angle of buoyancy is alterede, swimmers swim beyond what they would otherwise be incapable of achieving without many seasons of preparation. The likes of Natalie Coughlin worked for years on honing what was already an excellent natural position in water. The progress she achieved and the barriers she broke over a six-year period came to others in a season that saw coaches complaining that they need not work on core training with some athletes because the suit did the job for them.

To his credit, Gangloff acknowledged the suit and the fact that the suits, plural, benefit some more than others. He indicated he believed the Jaked offered some advantage, but he said it was hard to say just how much. "I think it's really hard to quantify," he said. "I think it helps some people more than others." Which is why swimming takes place in unfair conditions this summer while FINA continues to try to get to grips with the big mistake it made in letting the LZR past the watchman that was never really watching at all back in 2007-08. One way or another in this summer of perverse results delivered to the race pool by the poor management of the sport by FINA and lack of direction from an apparently clueless president, Mustapha Larfaoui, Gangloff intended to enjoy himself, as he had done in the Indy battle with Shanteau: "It was a wonderful race."

The distance events in Indy were, compared to what has unfolded in other parts of the world, distinctly weaker than the sprint events. The men's 400m free went to Peter Vanderkaay, in 3:45.17, with Daniel Madwed second on 3:47.24, representing a big move up for a man who leaves his teenage years behind this year. Madwed clocked a best time of 3:50.91 in heats, his previous best having been a 3:53.37 from June and his 2008 best a 3:54.99. His new speed locked Michael Klueh, on 3:50.98, off the US team for Rome. 

The women distance freestylers from the US will also struggle to compete with the best of the rest of the world. In a season that has seen three 4:00.00 times and in which 4:05 is no longer in the race, the 400m free at trials in Indy were won by Allison Schmitt, on 4:06.77, ahead of Chloe Sutton, on 4:07.20, with a 4:09.61 by Caroline Burckle the only other sub-4:10 effort in the race. Back in 6th on 4:12.24 was Katie Hoff, Olympic silver medallist. In fourth at half way and still in touch, Hoff faded to 6th over the next 100m and was out of the picture by the end. Many a swimmer believes things happen for a reason. There are worse things than missing the lost swimming summer of 2009.

It may all turn out to be a blessing in disguise. "She got behind and it's just not there," said coach Bob Bowman. "Katie's been struggling physically. She's still not right, but she's going to step up and try to do a better 200 [freestyle]." Three weeks ago, a virus prevented Hoff from competing in Santa Clara, California and she needed to take a week off to rest and recover. That was a setback that the winner of one silver and two bronze medals in beijing last year would overcome, said Bowman.

For full results, go to Omega Live Timing.