Dubai, world s/c championships, day 3 finals
Men's 400m Freestyle
Paul Biedermann used his out on the edge vantage point to best advantage in thrilling 400m final that delivered not only gold for the German world champion but confirmation - to self more than anyone else - that he remains very much a force to reckon with despite local troubles along the way.
A glitch in the scoreboard deprived Biedermann, in lane 8, of an instant take on the result, his 3:37.06 delivering victory over Nikita Lobintsev (RUS), in lane 7 and on 3:37.84, the bronze going to early leader and pace-setter Oussama Mellouli (TUN) in 3:38.17.
Forget Biedermann's world mark - and we all know why - while the championship record that has stood at 3:35.01 to Grant Hackett (AUS) since 1999 also looked to be a stretch too far for any in the race right now. But the fight in the man is key to any future ambition that Biedermann harbours. After falling shy of expectation in the 200m freestyle and suggesting that he would have to go back to the drawing board on technique, there was no sign of giving up. Rather, Biedermann had much to prove and prove it he did with a well-timed assault on the man who had set the early pace, Olympic 1,500m champion Oussama Mellouli (TUN).
Biedermann's coach at Halle, Frank Embacher, had suggested post-200m final that his charge needed to rethink his race strategies because his rivals had learned to second-guess him. If there was a change of plan along the way, the cracking finish that the German has made something of a signature was still very much in evidence.
Mellouli turnd first at the in 52.96 and looked to have his pace and the race under control. At the half-way mark, the Tunisian based in LA turned in 1:48.77, the field tight, Biedermann in lane 8 5th on 1:49.69, Nikita Lobintsev (RUS) in lane 7 and 7th on 1:50.17.
Mellouli then started to pile on the kind of pressure that breaks up packs, the point where more often than not the leaders plough on, the followers fade. With 100m to go, Mellouli, on 2:43.99, still had the edge but the storm warning was out on the wing for all to see, Lobintsev roaring through to second on 2:44.44, Biedermann third on 2:44.72, their battle driving them level with the leader before the turn into the last 50m.
The clock flashed up a new leader: Biedermann's feet made contact at 3:11.37, Mellouli 0.26sec back, Lobintsev 0.01sec away from him. Biedermann sensed blood and the blood running through his veins flamed a furious resolve to take his chance. The German came home in 25.69, Lobintsev in 26.20 and Mellouli in 26.54.
The champion, awaiting news from a blank scoreboard, could see his own image on the giant screens overhead.
He made a horn with his hand, pulled a gruesome face that faked a tear of meat from bone, sucked his teeth and punched the air, all in the interests of saying as much to self as rest: 'see, I can do it', with a few expletives along the way.
"I was disappointed after the 200m, so I said to myself that I just had this race to finish well the year: I could lose everything, or try to win. In the end, things worked out well” said Biedermann. "I am getting better in the 400m, and apparently losing some speed in the 200m. Let’s see how it will evolve - for now, I finished my year, it’s time to have a holiday."
With an unreferenced nod to looming battles with a certain Michael Phelps, among others, he added: "The next world championships will certainly be tough, as I saw that in the Asian Games many competitors are swimming well - I then have to work more, to be more concentrated on my races so that I can defend my world titles next year."
History in the making:
World s/c Podiums
Most world titles in this event:
Records (TB = best ever in a textile suit)
Most world records in this event (since specific 25m records began in 1991):
All-time textile rankings top 5:
From the archive:
Daniel Kowalski, inspired by Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas (who came out last year), has told the Australian public that he is gay. He told his family back in 2006. This past weekend he told a Sunday paper Down Under: "Things pop in my head that make me realise that I clearly suppressed these thoughts of being gay … because it was 'wrong', as a male it's 'wrong' but even more as an elite athlete. I always knew that I lacked confidence when I stood up on the blocks and I do wonder sometimes if that lack of confidence was fear - fear of not really knowing who I am. On the sporting side, I lost to some amazing champions, so I'm not for a second saying that this is the reason I didn't win. I often wonder if the lack of self-confidence and lack of identity in many ways held me back from reaching my potential." He added that he hoped to find love soon, saying: "I look for all the things straight people do. I want to fall in love and be happy and be proud of who I am." Good for him. Daniel Kowalski was among the most pleasant ambassadors for himself, his country and the sport of swimming that I have been privileged enough to interview across the barrier in the mixed zone and in and after press conferences down the years. Since he had given so many folk so many reasons to be proud of him for who he is, was and what he achieved, a good thing that he can now be proud of himself too. In the race pool, Kowalski claimed Olympic relay gold in 2000, after a silver and two bronzes from 1,500m down through 400m and 200m respectively at the 1996 Olympic Games. Among many prizes in his career, he holds the honour of having won the first two world s/c titles over 400m and 1,500m freestyle in 1993 and 1995. Now home in Australia, Kowalski was of late an assistant swimming coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He told the Sunday Age that he was not expecting more athletes to come out in the wake of his story. ''I just want them to realise that they are not alone, that the feelings that they have are probably quite common and that at the end of the day it's really OK. There will be hard times, but you surround yourself with great, supportive people who love you for you and you'll be OK.'' Here's a thoughtful and useful comment in the Sydney Morning Herald that was penned as a result of Kowalski's decision to tell it like it is - and explains why all of what Kowalski has had to say is newsworthy.