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Top Spills And Thrills Of 2011

Dec 30, 2011  - Craig Lord

It may be tempting to label 2011 the Year of the Comeback, so many were the big names pouring back into the race pool, but the past 12 months actually belonged to those glowing in the headlines, Ryan Lochte the Midas Man at the helm of golden efforts from Sun Yang, Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, James Magnussen, Federica Pellegrini, Rebeccas Soni and Adlington, Therese Alshammar and more at Shanghai world titles back in July.

Their stories and many more are told in our month by month trawl of the year alongside this article today, with Lochte the only swimmer able to crack shiny suit long-course mark, in a boiling battle with Phelps in the 200m medley, the silver lining earned inside the time at which the 14-times Olympic gold medal winner had held the world-record mark before his teammate, and Sun inside Grant Hackett's 2001 1500m standard. Among women, Franklin topped the bill, three of her five medals gold, one of those in a 200m backstroke time that may well have been a breathtaking world record had it not been for the suits now sunk.

No matter. The racing was phenomenal, the entertainment electric. As Australia's head coach Leigh Nugent summed up neatly at the end of play in Shanghai: "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."

Not quite so terrific for Cesar Cielo, the Brazilian who took tortured road to China courtesy of a positive test that saw him sit before CAS on the cusp of racing for two world dash titles. The anti-doping regime was widely seen as having let athletes down, one way or the other, and Cornel Marculescu, FINA Executive Director, was among those seeking explanations from WADA. In the focus on Cielo, Brazil's growing association with doping, was overlooked by some but was not lost on swim commentators domestic and international.

FINA had its troubles too. A year ago SwimNews wrote: "Over the festive season, news reached SwimNews of more hot water in the world of open water when it comes to the world titles in Shanghai next July. The issue ought to be simple for FINA: is there a danger of unacceptable conditions? If so, radical changes need to be made. One death is one death too many, as we all know." Come July this year, 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. Three world champions, the entire US team (one swimmer started but was pulled out) and several others pulled out of the 25km races citing unacceptable conditions. FINA said all was well - even "perfect", a reaction that prompted a leading international agency to wire to the world that FINA's behaviour "beggared belief".

This past year, swimming has mourned several big contributors to the sport. Among those lost to this world were Larry Tapp, Trudy Housman, Bill Cody, Inge Sørensen, Michael Lohberg, Keo Nakama, Carl Robie and Ragnhild Hveger.

Meanwhile, the swimming world turned and below is a list of top swims, top swimmers and some self-styled awards, with links to our month by month recollection of events at the foot of all things.


Outstanding Achievement of the Year: Ryan Lochte, Gregg Troy (USA)

Male Swimmer of the Year: Lochte (USA)

Coach of the Year, men  - Gregg Troy (USA)

Female swimmer of the Year: Melissa Franklin (USA)

Coach of the Year, women: Todd Schmitz (USA)

Breakthrough of the Year: James Magnussen (AUS)

World-title fights of the Year: men's 200m medley (Lochte Vs Phelps) and women's 800m freestyle (Adlington Vs Friis) in Shanghai

Best Sum-Up Sentence Award: Tyler Clary (USA) - "If Michael hadn't existed, Ryan would be Michael"

The Evergreen Inspiration Award: 26 days shy of her 34th birthday, Therese Alshammar claimed the 50m freestyle world 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. 

Team of the Year: USA (World Championships) 16 gold, 5 silver, 8 bronze for 29 medals in Shanghai - it would have taken China, Australia and France combined to beat the superpower of the pool

Rank Breaker Team of Year: China (World Championships) - 5, 2, 7, 14

Relays of the Year:

  • Men:    AUS 4x100m free world title quartet (3:11.00, best ever in textile) with James Magnussen's 47.49 bringing home the bacon grilled by Eamon Sullivan and the two Matts, Abood and Targett
  • Women:  Both USA medley quartets - Shanghai world title in 3:52.36, 0.17sec shy of the world record but the best ever in textile suits, courtesy of Natalie Coughlin, 59.12; Rebecca Soni, 1:04.71; Dana Vollmer, 55.74 and Melissa Franklin, 52.79; and the same foursome this month at the Duel in the Pool in Atlanta with a 3:45.56 world short-course record

That last one a mark for all suits and seasons to date.

And so to some other prizes in this season of good cheer:

Comeback Magnet of the Year Medal: Ian Thorpe (AUS) 

Corporate Nod of the Year Plaque: Ian Thorpe for jetting out of swimming paradise bound for the swimming desert of Abu Dhabi because his sponsor started flying there

Most Promising Comeback Cup: Brendan Hansen (USA)

Breathtaking Range Of The Year Award: Sean Kelly coached Keri-Anne Payne (GBR), 10km world champion (retained), medal winner at British nationals in all freestyle distances from 200m to 1500m (the latter in national-record time) and a world-class medley swimmer to boot

Ripple Effect Award: Michael Phelps Foundation, including the man with his name on the title and coach Bob Bowman, with more good to come from spreading the aquatic word

Coach Hopper of the Year Award: Federica Pellegrini (ITA)

Calendar Chaos Cup: just about the whole sport anywhere you look appears to have lost the plot to some extent but here are some examples of why at least some who might tune in to swimming once in a while tune out until the Olympic Games comes round once every four years: 

  • OG and Worlds heats, semis, final except 400 and up and relays top 8 in finals, over 8 days
  • SC Euros 4 days with heats (up to 4 entries/c) semis in 50s and 100s, finals
  • Compressed over 2 days 4 sessions, all ind events as time finals, no relays
  • Semi-compressed 3 days 6 sessions, all events as time finals including 5 relays
  • Brazilian up-side down meet format, prelims in prime afternoon, finals next morning, usually fastest times in the prelims.
  • Canadian all formats: prelims short course, finals long course (only fastest get 50m swims)
  • Australians go 6 days all ages (usually single years) all events 
  • Add to the mix a degree of confusion over what constitute OG events and FINA events

Which format would you have? Within the sport, many will say 'so what', great to have variety. Fair enough - but don't complain then when the world media only shows up to what it knows to be the only "occasions that matter", the ones with consistency, standardisation and the very best of the best gunning for gold at precisely the same moment in the same conditions.

Bang Your Heads Together Bid Cup: The Commonwealth Games Federation. Great to have universality in sport but much greater intelligence and honesty is required when big multi-event organisers gather to stick their hands in the air. Beyond the obvious poverty and serious problems associated with developing nations who have much bigger things on their plate than sport, the legacy of the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi surfaced like rotting sewage in 2011: event honcho Suresh Kalmadi is still in jail, along with some of his lieutenants, on corruption-related charges (the top man denies everything); alleged scams and the alleged scamsters run riot over the newspaper pages of India and the wider world; there is a damning report on 10 Delhi Development Authority officials over alleged irregularities in the construction of badminton and squash courts; by autumn 2001 Britain’s SIS Live, which handled the international broadcasting for the Games, was still trying to have its name cleared after investigators found irregularities in SIS’s contract; SIS in turn is still owed £12 million from its contract; venues remain largely closed to the public; several venues and facilities gather dust behind closed doors. Responsibility not only rests with hosts but with those offering their wares in the market place.

Daft Idea of the Year Trophy: jointly awarded to those who want tops on men's suits when they're not needed; and those lobbying for mixed relays, gimmick being greater than tradition and historic thread among those never content with or unable to see the thrill of what is and who would have swimming turned into a circus of ever-changing costumes if they thought they might turn another dollar

Federation Revolt of the Year:  The Tunisian Swimming Federation wass seized when anti-Government protesters, including the parents of Olympic and world 1,500m freestyle champion Ousamma Mellouli, storm the offices and flew the flag of reform over a group of folk whose inefficiency had Mellouli racing for world s/c gold over 60 laps in morning heats in December 2010.

Ruled By Fear Ribbon: FINA Bureau for failing to heed a call from President Julio Maglione  to invite a coach to the top table of the sport on the same voice-only basis as the status  secured in an historic first for athletes at Congress in July

Worthy Excuse of the Year: Emily Seebohm (AUS), who was thrown off course not by the odd niggle, muscle strain or lack of motivation but swine 'flu

Missed Cut Cup: Rafael Munoz, a world record holder unable to make the Spanish team for the world championships

Give It Time Trophy: Kieren Perkins, who inspired late developers the world over and fired a shot across the bows of the "lets sprint our kids to death" meet organisers when he told pupils at his former school in Brisbane of the very good reason why his name does not appear in any list of sporting achievers at their age: he had never been tagged as a "future Olympian" as a boy, and was never a primary school champ, since all competitions for that age group at school level were held over shorter distances than those in which his lungs and stamina could start to do some damage

Brothers-in-arms Cup: Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius, who shared gold for Gaul in an historic world-title 100m backstroke final

Sisters-in-arms: Jeannette Ottesen (DEN) and Aleksandra Herasimenia (BLR), who shared gold as unexpected champions in the world-title 100m freestyle final

Let the Light In Trophy - A three-way win among those forced to face the worst thing that could have happened in the sport: FINA Task Force for their report into the death of Fran Crippen amid cries that any commitment to the priority of athlete safety needs to start with the leadership of FINA; USA Swimming and the Independent Investigation team led by Dick Pound for pressure and honesty applied; and FINA's top brass for resisting the urge to repeat a bad pattern of playing down uncomfortable truths - a great breakthrough for the international federation (may there be much more of it to come)

Fight For What's Worth Fighting For: Jointly to Fran Crippen's coach Dick Shoulberg, who called on FINA to cancel the open water events at the world championships in Shanghai this summer in light of ambient limits suggested by reports into the death of his pupil the previous October, and all those, who can be named and those who cannot, who worked hard to get the right messages to investigators 

Wait Patiently To See How Political Promises Pan Out Pin: Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, includes 500 new swimming pools in a blueprint to rejuvenate Russian sport 

Give Cheaters A Chance Cup: WADA, which followed the letter of weak and badly written law (that it subscribed to and got the world to sign up to) to let a tidal wave of suspended athletes back into the Olympic arena while turning a blind eye to delivering a second chance or redemption to the victims of cheating; WADA also declared 2012 Olympic host Britain "non-compliant" with its Code because GBR has a selection policy that rejects those who have served big doping bans

Right Message Medal: David Howman, director general of WADA, for acknowledging that lawyers are playing a part in helping cheats get off the hook; that cheating is much wider than stats suggest; that science is not enough in war on drugs; and declaring that it is time to take the fight out of the lab 

The Inconsistency and Contradiction Cup: to all those involved in decisions on doping cases that ranged from warnings to suspensions of up to a year for the same offence and kept one swimmer out of world titles because his federation failed to submit paperwork while putting another in even though a banned substance was present, the same banned substance 

Consequence Cup: Nick D'Arcy, whose knockout blow on Simon Cowley, now 30, continues to haunt both men as Cowley seeks up to Aus$750,000 in damages and D'Arcy declares himself bankrupt and is never likely to pay the full bill due in the case

You Are What You Eat Tricky Meal Ticket Trophy: China, where clenbuterol-pumped produce had event organisers issuing warnings and advice on food eaten by athletes visiting the country - and had team officials on the food-chain trail before swimmers sat down to give grace

Federation Farce of the Year: New Zealand, with its string of top-brass resignations and damning reports 

Unearthed From the Archive Award: ISHOF, which acquired German Emil Rausch's 1904-06 Olympic medals after they were found in an attic in Berlin

Athlete Action Award: The IOC athletes' forum recommended lifetime bans for ‘deliberate and aggravated doping offences’ and tougher action on coaches and doctors involved in illegal practices

Dodge City Cup: The tales of corruption at the heart of Olympic sports touches the world of swimming as form Olympic swimmer and FIFA boss Joao Havelange resigns as a member of the IOC (thus avoiding any further need to answer) just days before he is due to be judged on a corruption inquiry that was likely to have ended in penalty

The Courage Cup: Aussie freestyler Kenrick Monk. You could call it the other way but after he invented a story about a hit-and-run accident in which he sustained an injury he admitted that he had in fact fallen off his skateboard. He took the wrap, the knocks and talked to the media of learning from his mistakes

Ain't Life A Ball Award: legendary coaches Peter Daland and Forbes Carlile, both 90 this year

Ain't We Brave As Long As We Don't Have To Stand Up And Be Counted Ourselves Trophy: Italian IOC blazers and bravehearts after Federica Pellegrini, Olympic 200m freestyle champion, is put under pressure over an invitation to serve as flag bearer for Italy at the London 2012 Games; she says 'no', blazers say 'come on, we're not asking you to carry The Cross'.

And on a serious note, much credit goes to those who keep the history of the sport alive in a variety of forms so that context is brought to all things current and yet to come, at the helm of all Nick Thierry, with thanks also to the team of SwimNews Magazine writers who do a great job on a wide variety of topics and angles, Harald Gehring and team in Germany, Mark Morgan Down Under, and in the US, Cecil Colwin, the team at ISHOF, Matt Hoopper at ASCA and the nutty Bill Bell but to name a few. 

And so to 2012

If the past year has witnessed some sensational efforts, Olympic year promises even more, including the next chapter for Lochte, the last Olympic chapter for Phelps, the first Olympic chapter for Franklin, the hopes of a home nation and the dreams of those who will arrive in London aiming, in a phrase uttered by Lotte Friis through nervous laughter in the wake of defeat at the hands of Rebecca Adlington in Shanghai, to break home hearts.

Whatever unfolds, SwimNews wishes all hard-working clean athletes the best of fortunes, health and happiness for the coming year. May the harvest roll in for those who sewed.  

Below are links to our month-by-month trawl of events in the past year: