Some Spills & Thrills In Shanghai
Jul 31, 2011 - Craig Lord
"I’m glad this meet is over, it’s been a long eight days. Getting five gold medals is definitely great but the times that I have gone, I know I can go faster. There are a lot of places in my races that I messed up on. I have a year to make sure I have those perfect swims," - Ryan Lochte a year out from London 2012
"This is 2011, it's not 2012 and it's not the Olympic Games. I've been able to gather more motivation here than I already had." - Michael Phelps a year out from London 2012
"2012 is something they can't wait to get to," - Frank Busch - US national team director.
Both Lochte and Phelps, stars of the show on 5 golds and 7 medals including 4 golds respectively, the cutting edge on the outer-orbit edge of all things with the man who won both duels, freestyle and medley, claimed their final gold medals of the meet today, while the US took two others to finish on a high, 29 medals including 16 gold, 5 silver and 8 bronze, way up on the shiny suit fiasco of Rome, when the superpower claimed 22 medals, 10, 6, 6. If the championships was their's the day belonged to China's Sun Yang, inside Grant Hackett on 14:34.14.
The hosts have done a fine job on many fronts, Shanghai a buzzing, modern, thriving place of 25m or more folk, the dimensions of all things scale apart from standard expectation, including the Oriental Sports Center, a place built fit to have the IOC drop a Games in if ever there was a need to switch at short notice. There are always stresses and strains when big events come to town but the Chinese have largely smiled their way through, obliged where they could, and cheered everything that moved with the words CHN after it. They applauded others too and by the end had nailed their colours to the masts of Lochte and Phelps in appreciation of the extraordinary.
But it was the Sun setting over Hackett that they were most interested in and even long after he had left the deck and they were pulling down the rigging around our ears as we mopped up the meet, visitors lingered to take photos of the hallowed place where it all happened. Just as well - it won't be there in the morning (in a manner of speaking), the Myrtha Pool bound for boxing as the centre converts for someone else's show.
LOCHTE: The 26-year-old goes home with five gold medals one world record (1:54.00 200IM) and two scalps marked Phelps, in the 200m free and medley. History will also recall him as the first swimmer to crack a long-course world record in a textile suit after the ban on performance-enhancing cover-ups. Tyler Clary said: "If Michael hadn't existed, Ryan would be Michael".
PHELPS: It's the training, stupid. He said it all week and we got it, though we also got something else: just how incredible was the background of the man and the blueprint of Bob Bowman, who built a beast capable of descending to more than bad hair day yet come out with a tally fir for a whole nation.
MISSY The Missile: Melissa Franklin is 16 and the fastest 200m backstroke swimmer ever - 2 05.10. A Mary T Meagher moment masked by shiny standards that get in the way yet. She picked up five medals, among then 3 gold.
MAGGIE The Missile: James Magnussen, the fastest 100m swimmer in history and on a roll with time on his side... thrilling prospect, a fascinating journey ahead at the helm of the sprint world
SUN YANG: The 19-year-old brought the house down with victories in the 800m and 1500m free, taking down Grant Hackett's 14:34.56 from 2001 with a 14:34.14 world record. He also took silver in the 400m and bronze in the 4x200m.
ALSHAMMAR the evergreen: 26 days shy of her 34th birthday, the Swedish sprinter claimed the 50m freestyle crown as the oldest world swim champ among women in history 20 years since she was first invited (she declined) to join the national team.
SUITS: Gone for good - what a wonderful sport.
WORLD RECORDS: no suits, no 43 marks in eight days. Just two fell instead - and they meant the world. Australia's head coach Leigh Nugent summed up neatly:
"I think the racing here has been fantastic and that is what it's about. I'm sure (for) the spectators, the world record obsession was somewhat unhealthy, they enjoy the racing now, not the result. The racing here has been as good as I have ever seen it. The women's 800, you wouldn't see a better race. The men's 200 IM ... we got a world record because of the racing, not because of what they had on. I reckon it is fantastic and now its going to show you how hard it is to break a world record. Now you get one (record) and it's still a sensational meet. The athletes are getting credit now. Terrific stuff."
CESAR CIELO: CAS cleared the Brazilian to swim and he won the 50m butterfly, defended the 50m free title and was 4th in the 100m free. He got cheered, booed and whistled at. The anti-doping regime is letting athletes down and Cornel Marculescu, FINA Executive Director, is seeking explanations from WADA.
HOT WATER: High water temperatures forced 14 swimmers to quit during the 25km open water races at Jinshan City Beach - less than nine months after the death of Fran Crippen. The American died in a 10km race in the UAE last October. He was the first athlete to die on FINA's watch. A report recommended an upper limit of 31C - many say "too hot" and anyone who has done 5x200m in 31C waters will know why. USA Swimming advised its swimmers to withdraw and fished out the one athlete who insisted on competing. FINA's reaction "beggared belief" wrote one agency: "The race was completed in a perfect manner."
"I don't really think I'm the top dog," said Ryan Lochte. "No matter what the outcome of the end of the year championship meet, right afterwards I knock myself down to the bottom of the totem pole. I have a whole year to work hard, train hard to get back up there to the top."
Five crowns down and Lochte was not best pleased: "I'm kind of upset because I wanted to go faster," he said, not to mention the missed medley relay, though he did: "I was just kind of hoping I would (be on the team) just because of the way I've been (swimming) this meet."
Head US men's coach Eddie Reese said the relay was a toil too far for Lochte at the end of such a big meet and on the day of the 400m medley.
Even the mighty must rest. But not on laurels. How did Frank Busch, USA Swimming's national team director, see the challenge from other nations on the way to London 2012? "Am I optimistic? Am I pessimistic? I am neither. I just know we are a very competitive group."
If the US women dominated the gold count - Hardy, Beisel and Franklin, Soni, Vollmer - the men have work to do if you strip out Phelps and Lochte. Asked about the lack of 1-2 finishes in many events for the US where they were expect, Eddie Reese said: "Those days are over. Everybody (across the world) is in the game, and they're doing it well."
Busch refused to look ahead and read the runes for next year: "I can't predict anything. I sure am proud of this team though."
If the US is way out ahead, then China has risen to a solid second ahead of Australia. "I think the Chinese team's performance is pretty good," China's head coach Yao Zhengjie said. "Some swimmers had not done as good as we had expected, but overall, we have achieved our goal, mission accomplished."
A new start for China. The Chinese won 12 gold medals at the Rome world championships in 1994 but the programme was tainted by the whiff and results of a big doping problem that rumbled through the 1990s and culminated in chaotic scenes at Perth 1998. Four swimmers failed out of competition doping tests conducted before the championships while another, Yuan Yuan, was caught at Sydney airport with human growth hormone in her bags - enough for the whole team, with Zhao Ming the rogue coach at the middle of a systematic programme of cheating with banned substances.
Chinese authorities vowed to clean up the sport, times and results fell away but standards were raised on the way to a result that no longer draws damning condemnation. Here is what has happened in recent years on the medals table:
Yao said the reasons why the country's men's team were now starting to perform was twofold. "Firstly, the height and the size of our men's team, if you look at our relay team, when they won the bronze medal, they stood next to other teams, they are as tall as their counterparts from the western countries," Yao said. "We have some athletes whose heights are close to two metres. From that perspective, we are almost as good as other athletes from countries such as the US.
"Another reason is the overseas training programme," he added. Sun and several others often in Australia, and Wu Peng, among others, is in the US, of allowing a number of swimmers to train offshore, something Wu said had benefited him while he trained at the United States.
"Training in the U.S is more relaxed, maybe it's due to cultural differences, in China the training is always very serious," said Wu before adding that in the US he was required to take care of a lot of his own travel and planning. "This is good training for swimmers."
Yao believed there were good coaches in China but added "Chinese swimming is still relatively underdeveloped. Until we become a leading force in this sport, we will continue to send our swimmers abroad for training."
Shanghai had been a success but there was no guarantee of the same in London, said Yao. "London will not be like the Shanghai world champs, they are different, not comparable," he said. "This time, we are at home, we have everything going for us. When we go to London, we will be facing many difficulties, (and) we must work hard and should not be complacent. Indeed, there are (still) many things we need to work on (and) our goal is to perform better than we did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. No doubt there will be more pressure on me. I don't want the burden of gigantic pressure so next year I will keep a relaxed mindset for future races," he said.
Sun, meanwhile, says there is more to come. "During the world championships my mental state was not stable and there are some regrets," he said. "But after the 400m race I adjusted my mental state so I'm very satisfied with my current results."