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Recalling The Runes Of June

Jun 5, 2012  - Craig Lord

June has long been a month of fine tuning for those aspiring to be the very best there ever was in the race pool. This month brings the closing chapter of the London 2012 warm-up with US Olympic trials, including the penultimate chapter of the career of the greatest, Michael Phelps.

The likelihood of world records is diminished at a time when swimmers and coaches have set their own new parameters in the real world of swimming (in textile apparel cut to account for gender) beyond the artificial fast-forward of booster bodysuits now banned. None of which will diminish the thrill of what is about to unfold in Omaha at the end of the month.

And none of which should prevent us recalling a high tide of swimming history that recalls swell times in June as big fish raced towards the big leap or drop of summer.

June 16 2000 saw Alex Popov (RUS) crack out a 21.64 freestyle dash in Moscow on his way to silver in the 100m and 6th place over 50m at Sydney 2000 after having won both events in 1992 and 1996. The big titles had passed to others but the dash world mark remained in the Sprint Tsar's hands until the advent of shiny suits.

Two other greats of sprinting, Americans Jim Montgomery and Matt Biondi are among folk who set a new standard for the world in June. Both took down the 100m mark, Montgomery as he set his sights on Olympic gold in Montreal in 1976 that would also deliver the first sub-50sec swim; and Biondi as he set his sights on a world title in Madrid in 1986 that would deliver the first global 100m crown won for the first time not only inside 50sec but 49sec too, his stunning 48.94 championship mark surviving until Popov shaved 0.01sec off it at Perth in 1998.

The Albatross, Michael Gross (FRG) warmed up for the 1984 Olympic crown over 200m freestyle with a 1:47.55 200m free world mark in Munich on June 8 on his way to a 1:47.44 victory in Los Angeles.

Mark Spitz set the first world record of his career in June with a 4:10.6 over 400m freestyle on the 25th of the month in 1967 in Heywood at a time when Debbie Phelps was yet a school girl on her way to playing a blinder as Michael's mom and mentor to generations of other kids.

American distance pioneers Brian Goodell (1976) and Tim Shaw (1975) set 1500m free world records at Long Beach in June on their way to gold and silver, respectively, in the 400m free at Montreal, while their Olympic teammate John Naber, on 2:00.64 over 200m at Long Beach trials in 1976, was the last man to set a world long-course backstroke record in June. 

Among the most famous of breaststroke watersheds unfolded in June, when Roman Sloudnov (RUS) clocked 59.97 over 100m in the 29th back in 2001 in Moscow. That effort earned him the honour of European Swimmer of the Year and an invitation to a Sprint Cup event in New York on October 20. He travelled from Siberia to Moscow to line up for his visa, discovered that the US Embassy was closed due to a terrorist bomb threat, and went home empty handed, with no chance of a ticket west. 

Over 200m, Terry Gathercole, who would go on to head the Aussie swimming federation, set a world mark of 2:36.5 in the dead of winter Down Under back in 1958, while Victor Davis (CAN) warmed up for glory at the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 with a 2:14.58 standard-setter on June 17 in Etobicoke.

It was June 26, 1960 when Lance Larson (USA) carved his name into swimming history with the first sub-minute swim over 100m butterfly, his 59.0 in Los Angeles unfolding eight years before the sprint 'fly event would make it onto the Olympic programme.

Pablo Morales (USA) set both his world 100m butterfly record in June, the first on the 26th in 1984 on his way to silver behind The Albatross in Los Angeles, the second on the 23rd in 1986 with a debut sub-53sec effort of 52.84 on his way to the 1986 world title in Madrid. Two years on, still world record holder, he missed the cut for the 1988 Games, retired but thought twice on the way to a glorious moment in Barcelona in 1992. The offspring of Cuban immigrants, Morales finished third over 100 and 200m butterfly at 1988 trials. 

Out of the Games, he could not bring himself to watch the Olympic final won by Anthony Nesty (SUR) when the moment was broadcast on television to the world. Morales entered law school, lost to the pool. But the death of his mother, Blanca, from cancer, prompted Morales to make a comeback in late 1991. At 27 in Barcelona, he became the oldest winner of the butterfly sprint crown in 53.32. "When I was up on the victory stand, I was thinking that my mother would want to be here to experience this - and I know that she was with me in spirit. This was my time at last," said Morales as he dedicated his golden moment to Blanca.

On June 3, 1976 in East Berlin, Roger Pyttel (GDR) became the first man to crack 2mins over 200m 'fly, a 1:59.63 something he could not match when finishing fourth at the Montreal Games, the title going to Mike Bruner (USA) in a world mark of 1:59.23.

Gross set two of his four world records in June, his 1:56.24 in Hannover on the 28th in 1986 on his way to retaining the world crown in Madrid staying on the books until Mel Stewart (USA) pipped him for the global title in the German's swan song race at Perth in 1991 with a 1:55.69 victory.

A grand month for Michael Phelps (USA) has June been: not once but twice the day before his birthday, the man who would become the greatest Olympian ever took posted global medley marks. The first one unfolded in 1:57.94 over 200m at Santa Clara on the 29th in 2003 on the way to the world title in Barcelona, the second recorded in 4:05.25 in Omaha on the 29th in 2008 on his way to his retaining the Olympic title in Beijing. 

A couple of decades before, Alex Baumann (CAN) warmed up for double medley gold at the 1984 Olympic Games with a 4:17.53 over 400m medley in Etobicoke on June 17.

Discounting obvious moments driven by doping or shiny suits, the book of women's swimming recalls a fair few high points in June.

A born-again Inge De Bruijn (NED) going on a world-record breaking spree in June 2000 on her way too triple gold in Sydney. Having equalled the world freestyle dash mark of 24.51 on May 27 (one of five standards she set that month), she turned the clock back to 24.48 on June 4 and 24.39 on June 10. The year before, De Bruijn had hinted at the turnaround in her commitment with a 26.54 world mark over 50 'fly on June 18 in Amersfoort.

Americans Heather Greenwood and Shirley Babashoff set new standards over 400m freestyle in June, Greenwood on 4:17.33 in Santa Clara on the 28th the year after claiming the inaugural world title, Babashoff on 4:14.76 at Long Beach on the 20th in 1975 on the way to the world title that year.

One of four 800m world marks set by Aussie Ilsa Konrads, John's little sister, belongs to June, while Babashoff became the first woman to break 8:40, on 8:39.63, over 800m on June 21 in Long Beach in 1976 on her way to three nauseating silvers over 200m, 400m and 800m behind young East German victims of a state doping programme in Montreal.

Margareta Rylander, of Sweden, was the last woman to hold a 1500m world mark over 19mins back in June 1961, while Kate Ziegler (USA) set what is the only world mark still surviving from a time before shiny suits, a 15:42.54 over 30 laps at Mission Viejo on June 17, 2007.

Cristine Caron made history for France when she clocked 1:08.6 over 100m backstroke in Paris on June 13 1964 on her way to the Olympic podium that year, while one of eight world marks to fall to Japan's Satoko Tanaka over 200m between 1960 and '63 was set in June, before the event joined the Olympic programme in 1968 and a decade before world championships existed.

Betsy Mitchell (USA) was the last woman to hold the 200m mark - on 2:08.60 - in Orlando on June 27, 1986 before FINA altered the turn rule and removed the need to touch the wall with the hand, from march 31, 1991. 

Wiltred Urselmann, of Germany, set a new 200m breaststroke standard of 2:50.2 at Aachen on June 6, 1960 on her way to settling for silver behind Britain's Anita Lonsbrough at the Rome Games, where victory came in the first sub-2:50sec effort, a 2:49.5. 

In Los Angeles on June 28, 1958 not long beyond the birth of butterfly, Nancy Ramey (USA) became the first women to crack 1:10 over 100m, with a 1:09.6 effort two years after she claimed silver in the inaugural Olympic final won by teammate Shelly Mann in 1:11.0, Ramey on 1:11.9 on a steep curve of learning and progress on butterfly. The day after the 100m mark in 1958, Ramey added the 200m record in 2:40.5. By June 12 1960, the standard had been cut back to 2:34.4, set by Marianne Heemskerk (NED, relative of Femke's?) in Leipzig.

The first of four world marks to fall to Sylvia Ruuska (USA) over 400m medley came in at 5:46.6 on June 27, 1958, while one of the six world records over the distance to fall to Donna de Varona (USA) belonged to June, a 5:29.7 on the 2nd in 1962 the first sub-5:30 effort on her way to the inaugural Olympic crown ion 5:18.7 in 1964. Between July 1960 and August 1964, De Varona took the world mark from 5:36.5 to 5:14.9.

Roll on June trials from the 25th in Omaha, after which the form guide for London 2012 will be in place.