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WR: Zhang Zips Up For 7:32.12 800 Free

Jul 29, 2009  - Craig Lord

So: Zhang's first length: 26.54sec. Zhang's last length: 25.99. In between, the quickest 800m we've ever witnessed, by a vast margin. Interesting how the suits appear to remove remove feelings of pain and fatigue. But as Paul Biedermann noted, when you get out of the water, the body responds in kind to the effort that it didn't appear to notice it was putting in. Sounds dangerous to me.

Right, back to the 800m. And how the circus rang to the echo of the China crisis in 1994 as the 22nd global standard brought us to the mid-way point of the shampionships. It was doping back then. Now its shiny, ugly suits that make just about all the efforts unfolding before us meaningless. Truly meaningless. 

The link between 1994 and 2009 is the word circus. Grant Hackett (AUS) was a towering giant of his sport and a year into retirement had been expected to keep hold of his world marks over 800m and 1,500m free for a while longer. 

But then along came a shiny suit and sat down beside his 7:38.65 away. Zhang Lin demolished the first of Hackett's two remaining monuments with a 7:32.12 bomb-blast. The Chinese swimmer was behind world-record pace for a while but over the last 300m he tore the mark apart It was as if he felt nothing, no pain.  Zhang learned his lesson in the 400m, this time switching from a LZR to a Jaked01 (who said that these balloon suits don't help in distance events).

The silver went to Oussama Mellouli (TUN) in 7:35.27, the bronze to Ryan Conhrane (CAN) in 7:41.92. 

By 400m  Zhang had edged ahead of Mellouli and was, for the first time, under Hackett's world record pace. He never looked back, neither at the first man home in the 2007 title race (before a positive doping test for a stimulant that dated back to December 2006 came back to haunt him and he had to had the crown back) nor at the time on the clock established by Hackett in Montreal 2005, when he became temporary holder of the title 'most medalled man in world championship history'.

Between 400m and 500m Zhang raced 1sec faster than Hackett's split over that single 100m of the race. By 600m, he was 3sec inside Hackett's pace; by 700m it was 4.31; then came the sprint. Now, as I recall, Hackett put in a fantastic last 100m: 56.54. Wow. And Zhang put in a plastic fantastic last 100m: 54.09.

The splits compared:

  • Zhang:
  • 26.94; 55.20; 1:24.04; 1:52.55; 2:21.16; 2:49.87; 3:18.58; 3:46.79; 4:15.02; 4:43.28; 5:11.79; 5:40.36; 6:09.26; 6:38.03; 7:06.13; 7:32.12
  • Hackett: 
  • 25.99; 54.38; 1:23.13; 1:51.89; 2:20.60; 2:49.49; 3:18.32; 3:47.17; 4:16.06; 4:45.03; 5:14.21; 5:43.55; 6:12.78; 6:42.11; 7:10.44; 7:38.65

Just two of the six world records that had survived from the pre-Feb 2008 period are left standing: the 1500m for both men and women. The women's mark is safe, the battle in Rome already over, while Denis Cotterell, mentor to Hackett and now coaching Zhang things that his former pupil's standard will be harder to get to than the 800m was. It will need to be if it has a chance of staying on the books.

Zhang, China's first male l/c world champion in the very pool where the China crisis of the 1990s flared, said: "I felt a lot of pressure, I didn't know how to swim at this level but my coach told me you just have to do your best. I didn't have any strategy. I just tried to swim as fast as I could. I didn't think I'd swim 16 seconds faster (than in qualifying)."

The stats of the race are hideous:

The All-time top 10, with new entries in italics (and previous season best in brackets):

  • 7:32.12 Zhang CHN 7:48.22
  • 7:35.27 Mellouli TUN 7:49.02
  • 7:38.65 Hackett AUS 7:51.65
  • 7:39.16 Thorpe AUS ?
  • 7:41.92 Cochrane CAN 7:47.11
  • 7:43.84 Colbertaldo ITA 7:52.29
  • 7:44.32 Davies GBR 7:50.74
  • 7:45.63 Jensen USA 7:53.29
  • 7:46.00 Perkins AUS 7:50.51
  • 7:46.05 Prilukov RUS 7:47.79