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Wildeboer Gets Past Peirsol's 100 'WR': 52.38

Jul 1, 2009  - Craig Lord

The Mediterranean Games ended in the farcical way that the world championships in Rome will probably begin: with a world record that owed very much to the fast suit being worn. Jaked01-boosted, Aschwin Wildeboer, 23, shattered Aaron Peirsol's world 100m backstroke record with a 52.38 opening split in the men's medley relay that ended with victory for Spain in 3:34.22. The race, the last of the meet, told a tale of a suit and the non-textile performance-enhanced nature of the current swim season.  Italy's women triumphant in the women's medley in 4:04.57.

Piersol's LZR-standard had stood at 52.54 since the Olympic Games in Beijing, when he retained the 100m crown for the USA. Guess what we may well now see at US trials next week. If Piersol's was the first fast-suit world record on backstroke then Wildeboer's effort is the first 100% non-textile world record. One that cannot be compared to anything that went before. Celebration must then be seriously muted. His best 100m of 2008 was 53.51, his best pre-fast-suits era, 54.97. 

The splits compared:

  • Wildeboer: 25.54, 52.38 (26.84) 
  • Peirsol: 25.65, 52.54 (26.89) 

World record progression:

  • 53.93, Jeff Rouse, USA, Edmonton, 25.8.1991 
  • 53.86, Jeff Rouse, USA, Barcelona, 31.7.1992 
  • 53.60, Lenny Krayzelburg, USA, Sydney, 24.8.1999 
  • 53.45, Aaron Peirsol, USA, Athens, 21.8.2004 
  • 53.17, Aaron Peirsol, USA, Indianapolis, 2.4.2005 
  • 52.98, Aaron Peirsol, USA, Melbourne, 27.3.2007 
  • FINA allows use of non-textile fabrics in suits and performance is enhanced
  • 52.89, Aaron Peirsol, USA, Omaha, 1.7.2008 
  • 52.54, Aaron Peirsol, USA, Beijing, 8.12.2008 
  • FINA allows 100% non-textile suits and performance is enhanced further
  • 52.38, Aschwin Wildeboer, ESP, Pescara, 1.7.2009 

What took 14 years to achieve on the clock, 1991-2005, have taken less than four, most of which happened in the past year, coinciding with ... no need to spell it out.

Wildeboer wore a red-hot poker 01. The glide phase out of start and turn were noticeably smooth. It was some 20m into the breaststroke leg of the relay before the Eurosport commentators noticed that the world record had fallen. They laughed a little nervously and one said "well, under these conditions ...". Response to the record was somewhat muted. 

Such events as the stats and circumstances above present a problem for the swimmer, for the sport, for federations, for those who cover the sport as journalists, among others. Why? Because Wildeboer will doubtless have trained hard and may well have done a best time today in other circumstances but the fact is that few believe that his 52.38 is just about him. It is about him and his suit, and the suit is truly significant and helps him more than it helps someone else and may help him less than it helps someone who will come along soon and blow what he has done out of the water. In Pescara, it may well be that Wildeboer would have won anyway. In Rome, things will be much tighter and we will never know who would have won or not under fair conditions. The sport is plunging deeper into ruination with every passing meet on the way to a circus (world championships) in Rome than many are dreading.

Of course, there are those who haven't the first idea about what has been going on and about the false nature of performance right now and the fact that when the world of suits changes radically sometime between now and London 2012, so too will the form guide in the race pool. Take the minister for sport in Spain, Jaime Lissavetzky. Political expediency being what it is, the minister claimed Wildeboer's effort as one that "opened a new era for Spanish swimming". His was "an extraordinary record", said the minister. Reports in Spain then go on to note than Spain is now muscling in on territory traditionally occupied by "Americans and Australians". No mention of how that may change, no mention of the suit. Mention that the minister celebrated the Games with the following words: "I don't think that this competition is a minor one, because world records are being broken". He does not ask why, of course. That would be to invite context and truth, both sometimes rather too painful to glare at. 

Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli will head to Rome later this month as favourite for the world 1,500m title after a blistering fast-suited 14:38.01 victory in the 1,500m freestyle.

The Tunisian, banned for a positive stimulant doping test until the eve of the Games in Beijing where he lifted the 1,500m crown ahead of giant of the event Grant Hackett (AUS), will surely next have a crack at Hackett's world record. Mellouli turned in 3:54.23 at the 400m mark, 7:50.85 at 800m, 9:48.43 at 1,000m and cracked out a final 100m of 55.22sec for the ocean-sized win over Italy's Federico Colbertlado, on 15:04.23, and Spain's Marcos Rivera, on 15:11.60. 

A look back at Mellouli's last year reveals that he rarely swims much below top-notch speed and is capable of repeating world-class times at a significant number of events, and events staged close together.

Elsewhere in Pescara, the women's 200m butterfly went to Caterina Giachetti (ITA) in 2:06.89, the men's equivalent to Frenchman Thomas Vilaceca, on 1:57.77.