The first World Cup of 1998 in Sydney attracted the crowds that were lacking in Perth as 5000 spectators flocked to the Homebush pool to cheer on their Australian stars. Over 300 athletes from 37 countries did their stuff. It seemed the transition from long course to short, from outdoor to in, was exactly what they needed to regenerate some hype-without all the pressure.
A superbly organized event, the only real flaw was a fiasco with the men's 400 IM - a time final at the World Cup - that left short course world record-holder Marcel Wouda (NED) with a bitter taste in his mouth. The misunderstanding arose when three swimmers failed to check in in the morning, although they were slated to swim in the evening heat. Marshals had them disqualified and reseeded the evening heat, throwing out Wouda, Xavier Marchand (FRA), and Michael Halika (ISR). When the error was discovered the respective coaches protested on the grounds that they were unaware of the necessity to check in. Wouda and Marchand were finally reinstated, but were not allowed back into the final. Instead they were made to swim together in a "time trial" heat at the end of the morning session. Wouda swam 4:06.02 all on his own, with Marchand coming in at 4:20.56. Later that night Matthew Dunn (AUS) fought it out with Curtis Myden (CAN), winning the event marginally over Wouda in 4:06.00.
Denied the chance to swim against Dunn, Wouda could not hide his disgust. "I was really pumped and ready. I was going for the world record," he said, "I'm really ticked off...I feel cheated out of the money and the car (Honda prize for a world record) ‘cause I was ready for it."
Said Dutch National Coach, Rene Dekker, "It cost him a lot of money at home because his sponsors were counting on that performance."
Myden, who led until the 300 before giving way to Dunn, swam to a Canadian record in the final, 4:08.50. He said, "I was a little tired on the end. I'm not in good enough racing shape because I haven't raced enough this season...I'm a little disappointed that I petered out on the last 100. I'll have to work on the end. But it's a best time and a Canadian record."
Another Canadian from the small squad of five, Laura Nicholls, set a Canadian record in the 200 freestyle with her time of 1:57.74. "I'm really happy with it. It's my best time by over a second and a Canadian record. It felt pretty good."
On the first night was another showdown between the Touretski two; Alexander Popov (RUS) demonstrated once again his superiority in 100 freestyle, Michael Klim (AUS) finishing right on his heels. With their starkly different styles, both men were clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the world.
Said Popov, "The world championships were good preparation for this event and it was good for me to get back into swimming and winning again. There was no secret to it, nothing fancy in particular. I prefer the long course swimming but if the opportunity to race short course comes, then why not? It's all part of the preparation for Sydney 2000. I am taking it step by step and every little bit counts."
Kieren Perkins was nowhere in the men's 400 freestyle but seemed unperturbed; after placing 11th in the heats he watched Ian Thorpe, 9 years his junior and usurper of his world champion title, come second in the event to Italian Emiliano Brembilla.
Sam Riley (AUS) had obviously fully recovered from the bout of tonsilitis that had her off her form the previous week in Perth. She had convincing wins in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes.
With the possibility of another Chinese drug scandal in the air, she said, "It's really sad. I haven't been very outspoken about this because there was no evidence, but now there is. When they found the growth hormone in Sydney, it overrode what the championships were all about. They've been caught with their hand in the cookie jar and it's just proof of what's been going on. I don't know how they can deny it."
And on Thursday, it finally happened. After an entire world championships without a single world record, Klim wowed the sparse crowd of morning spectators with a world record in his 100 fly heat, smashing Denis Pankratov's 1997 mark of 51.78 with a stunning 51.16. The Honda was in the bag, but he will be forced to sell it because of a sponsorship deal with Mazda...them's the breaks in the fast lane.
But being "not in the best of shape" for Klim - Australia's newfound hero and by then a household name - was relative. The young man who never sits back to just comfortably win a race, but goes for broke everytime, was most definitely knackered. But not too far gone to make the most of an opportunity, to use that underwater advantage while he still could.
Klim delivered more of the good stuff the same night. A brilliant start had him out in 23.65 (23.77 in the morning), and it was clear that it would be another perfect swim...or almost perfect. The clock stopped at 51.07; a second world record and $10,000 to boot. "I think I made even more mistakes the second time around," laughed Klim afterward. "I misjudged the distance from the walls."
James Hickman of Great Britain was also admirable with a 51.40, appropriating the European record from the once seemingly unbeatable Pankratov. After winning the 200 the night before (1:54.30), he was obviously on. "It came a few days too late," he said. He then proceeded to go on and win the 200 backstroke - a new event for him - beating Olympic champion Vladimir Selkov in a new British record of 1:54.51.
"I decided in Perth to swim the 200 backstroke because Deryk Snelling told me this is a good opportunity to try events you don't usually do," he explained. "I think I'm swimming better here because I'm more relaxed. I put too much pressure on myself at worlds. It was absolutley awesome to beat Vladimir!" It was great night for Britain: Mark Foster won the 50 freestyle in 21.57, leaving Popov to salvage the silver, while Sue Rolph picked up a gold in the 200 IM.
After a disappointing 2:01.42 in the 200 freestyle, Germany's not-so-golden girl Franziska van Almsick false started - a no-no at the World Cup - in the 100 freestyle and was promptly disqualified. A disgusted German Women's Coach Achim Jedamsky said afterward that she would be taken out of all World Cup competitions except Gelsenkirchen. "This is not a holiday," he said. Another coach was overheard saying that van Almsick's patented scowl would be perfect as an advertisement for poison.
As for the rest of the German squad, the tension of Perth behind them, they were free to perform. Mark Warnecke tied his own world record in the 50 breast (26.97); Antje Buschschulte, a great short course swimmer, took the backstroke triplet, winning the 50 (28.02), 100 (59.47) and 200 in 2:08.49.
Stev Theloke was 53.14 in the 100 back; Katrin Meissner won the 50 free 25.02. Of note was American Ron Karnaugh, a bronze medallist in Perth, who broke Pablo Morales' American record of 1:58.18 with his 1:57.47 After his morning swim he felt he could get the record, "I felt I might have an advantage over the others because the majority of my training is short course yards," he said. "In America we're born and raised on short course swimming and the turns are a big help."
Karine Bremond of France summed it up after swimming a national record in the 200 breast (2:26.53). Referring to her team's stellar performance in Perth, she said with a grin, "I guess we'll come back to Australia!"