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Peirsol Reclaims 200m Back WR: 1:53.08

Jul 11, 2009  - Craig Lord

US world-championship trials, Indianapolis, final day:

Aaron Peirsol's days at the helm over 200m backstroke appeared to be numbered when he lost the world and then Olympic crowns - and the world record along the way. The new king was US teammate Ryan Lochte. Now, Peirsol has the second-fastest time in history and is the world-record holder once more.

World record and second fastest? Impossible, outside observers might well say. Not so, though at a time of madness in the race pool. in the midst of the sad suits saga: in 1:53.08, Peirsol cracked the 1:53.94 world record established by Lochte when he lifted the Olympic crown to become the first man below 1:54 in Beijing last year. Behind him in Indy: Lochte on a 1:54.21 that enables him to defend his world crown in Rome later this month, and Tyler Clary, improver of the meet, on 1:54.53. In fourth, in a domestic race, Nick Thoman, on 1:54.83. Peirsol's previous best was 1:54.32, an equalled world record at US Olympic trials in 2008. He last held the world record alone at 1:54.44, up until the world-title final in Melbourne in March 2007 and at that time was the only man ever to have got inside 1:55.

"I'm elated I went that fast, but the real work is in two weeks," Peirsol, 26 on the eve of racing in Rome, told AP. "It's been a few years since I really felt good racing. I finally feel pretty good. I want to go faster. Ryan has pushed me quite a bit the last couple of years."

Peirsol now has 12 world backstroke records to his credit. The record of records is held by Roland Matthes (GDR), who established 16 world records over 100 (7) and 200m (9) between 1967 and 1975. Peirsol's latest record fell in the last session of trials in Indianapolis, after which USA Swimming posted the following Team Roster .

Peirsol's world-records over 200m:

  • 1:55.15 March 20, 2002 Minneapolis
  • 1:54.74 July 12, 2004 Long Beach
  • 1:54.66 July 29, 2005 Montreal
  • 1:54.44 August 19, 2006 Victoria
  • 1:54.32e July 4, 2008 Omaha
  • 1:53.08 July 11, 2009 Indianapolis 

That's a 2.07sec gain in seven years as one of the all-time greats of his sport.

Here's the Indy final with 2008 best times in brackets:

  • Peirsol 1:53.08 (1:54.32)
  • Lochte 1:54.21 (1:53.94)
  • Clary 1:54.53 (1:57.30)
  • Thoman 1:54.83 (1:56.15)
  • Tullius 1:57.97 (1:57.73)
  • Russell 1:59.28 (2:00.56)
  • Thompson 1:59.57 (1:59.92)
  • Johnson 2:00.67 (2:01.18)

To return to the sad suits saga: in April this year, Ryosuke Irie (JPN) clocked 1:52.86. Trouble was, he was wearing a Descente Aquaforce Zero suit that boasts the same construction and material make-up as the Jaked01 suit but at the time had not been approved by FINA.

The splits compared:

  • Peirsol: 26.82; 55.18 (28.36); 1:24.06 (28.88); 1:53.08 (29.02) 
  • Lochte: 27.24, 55.77 (28.53), 1:25.06 (29.29), 1:53.94 (28.88) 
  • Irie: 26.84, 55.46 (28.62), 1:24.42 (28.96), 1:52.86 (28.44) 

Irie's time is registered as a Japanese national record but does not count internationally.

For Irie's 1:52.86 suit never did win approval: not because it ought to be outlawed because it enhances performance in a truly significant way but because Descente did not have a scientist to drag along to FINA's table  in the days before a June 19 approvals announcement that ignored the work of the likes of arena (Descente's partner) and TYR but waved through the Jaked01. Impossible, cry those outside observers. Sadly not.

 Peirsol, who at these trials became the first man to break 52sec in the 100m backstroke and is now owner of both Olympic backstroke world-record distances once more, wears the "modified" arena X-Glide that has a few extra pockets where air can escape from. In fact, as Jaked proved and as arena's comprehensive study from Bologna University proved, there is sufficient doubt over the simplistic term "air trapping" as to render FINA enforcement invalid under its own limited and weak guidelines for 2009.

So Peirsol is the new world-record holder. The good news is that the American is one of the all-time greats of backstroke and would likely be that wearing anything from skin to a fur coat. The bad news is that FINA delivered race conditions to the race pool that dictate that he must wear a suit that ought never to have been allowed in the race pool to start with, along with the LZR and all the nonsense that followed. 

The all-time world top 10, January 2008:

  • 1:54.32 Lochte USA
  • 1:54.44 Peirsol USA
  • 1:54.65 Phelps USA
  • 1:55.44 Vyatchanin RUS
  • 1:55.74 Rogan AUT
  • 1:55.87 Krayzelburg USA
  • 1:56.34 Meeuw GER
  • 1:56.53 Irie JPN
  • 1:56.57 Lopez-Zubero ESP
  • 1:56.69 Cseh HUN

Cseh is now 20th and that 1991 stunner by Lopez-Zubero, still 33rd best performance ever behind seven men 18 months ago on the eve of the shiny suits era, is now 78th behind 15 men.

The new-look all-time world top 10 (2009 impacts in bold):

  • [1:52.86 Irie] - time rejected by FINA
  • 1:53.08 Peirsol USA
  • 1:53.94 Lochte USA
  • 1:54.09 Irie JPN
  • 1:54.53 Clary USA
  • 1:54.65 Phelps USA
  • 1:54.83 Thoman USA
  • 1:54.93 Vyatchanin RUS
  • 1:54.96 Wildeboer ESP
  • 1:55.49 Rogan AUT
  • 1:55.73 Donets RUS

Irie's 1:54.09 is his third-best effort, his 1:52.86 at the Duel in the Pool with Australia in Canberra in May having followed a 1:54.02 win at the Japanese nationals in April wearing the Descente suit that was never approved by FINA.

FINA's plans for 2010 will be known this summer. One thing is already clear: the next move needs to be decisive and blunt. It needs to rely on common sense more than the science that has led FINA up the garden path to a playground for lawyers who stand to make lots of money in the years ahead of FINA fails to understand the simplicity of the only way out of a mire of its own making: a definition of textile and a specified suit profile.

The women's 200m breaststroke stayed safe in the hands of Olympic champion and world record holder Rebecca Soni, in 2:20.38, 0.16sec off her own global standard set in a LZR last year when making a big step up in Beijing. Second berth for Rome world titles went to Hehn, on 2:23.70.

The men's equivalent went to Eric Shanteau in the second-fastest time ever, 2:08.01, off a 1:01.68 split, with the nervy line-up that followed him unable to crack 2:10 under pressure, the second berth going to Adam Klein, in 2:10.39. For Shanteau, his victory and time completed a successful 'comeback' meet, 10 months after being declared free of testicular cancer that was diagnosed just before US Olympic trials in Omaha last year. Shanteau did not reveal that he had cancer until after his Olympic selection.

Behind him in Indy was a wave of improvement. Adam Klein in 21 this year. He came to these trials with a best time of 2:15.94 from 2008 after a 2007 best of 2:18.24. He races for Auburn, the team that dnned the Jaked01 and came in for some stick from rivals who shouted "unfair advantage" after it claimed the NCAA title this year.

Shanteau wore the arena X-Glide. We will never know how much is helped him. Neither will we ever know just how much another shiny suit helped Klein. What we can say for sure is that he leapt from 55th all-time American to 7th and overtook nine current Americans on his way to claiming the berth for Rome.

Nowhere have the suits been more influential this year than in sprint free and 'fly and all breaststroke events around the world. In Indy, here is the final, with 2008 best times in brackets.

  • Eric Shanteau 2:08.01 (2:10.01)
  • Adam Klein A 2:10.39 (2:15.94)
  • Curtis Lovelace 2:10.96 (2:16.84)
  • Scott Spann 2:11.12 (2:09.08)
  • Aaron Opell 2:12.09 (2:17.25)
  • Matthew Lowe 2:12.58 (2:18.69)
  • Bart Steniger 2:13.14 (2:15.13)
  • Jack Brown 2:13.86 (2:17.84)

Only Spann had a better time from a season past and the leaps on the clock, with all due respect to the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for athletic excellence, are farcical when compared to what would have been expected looking back at the thread of history that has been violated by the shiny suits. 

Here's what the USA all-time top 10 looked like on the eve of the suits crisis in January 2008:

  • 2:08.50 Hansen
  • 2:10.16 Barrowman
  • 2:10.40 Moses
  • 2:10.65 Shanteau
  • 2:10.90 Usher
  • 2:12.24 Stackle
  • 2:12.35 Grote 
  • 2:12.39 Wilkens
  • 2:12.87 Wunderlich
  • 2:13.10 Denniston

And here is what it looks like now:

  • 2:08.01 Shanteau
  • 2:08.50 Hansen 
  • 2:09.08 Spann
  • 2:09.79 Mahoney
  • 2:10.16 Barrowman
  • 2:10.39 Klein A
  • 2:10.40 Moses 
  • 2:10.67 Usher 
  • 2:10.96 Lovelace 
  • 2:11.25 Klein G

How great does that 2:10.16 of Barrowman in his brief look now. It wasn't boring either. I was there. He was sensational; the atmosphere electric; the crowd thrilled; the sponsors delighted; USA Swimming had a star to celebrate and an asterisk-free career to hold up as an example to generations to come; and broadcasters and other media were happy to have a terrific tale to tell. And it was all down to Barrowman and his coach Josef Nagy, who is still producing breaststroke aces, such as Annamay Pierse up in Canada, but must surely be truly saddened to have his work and that of the athlete overshadowed and tainted by a suit.

Back to Indy, in the swim-off for the 50m free berth after a tie in the final proper, Cullen Jones cracked out a 21.41 American record ahead of a 21.70 for Garrett Weber-Gale. Jones ditched his Jaked01 in favour of a Speedo LZR for the swim-off but said he may return to the red-hot poker for Rome world titles. "They both [suits] fit right, so we're going to see what we can do at worlds. I try not to put too much faith in the suit. I put faith in the work I do," said Jones.

In contrast to the obvious leap in standards in shorter races, the women';s 800m free went to Chloe Sutton, in 8:29.34, a time that is unlikely to be good enough to make the final in Rome. The silver in Indy went to Haley Anderson, on 8:31.66, which locked Ashley Steenvoorden out by 0.29sec. The men's 1,500m free went to Jackson Wilcox, in 15:11.98, ahead of Brennan Morris, on 15:13.47.

America continues to struggle to find freestyle sprinters capable of getting near the barrier, suit or no suit, that may have to be broken to make the podium in Rome: 53sec. In 54 flat, the US title went to Dana Vollmer in 54.00, with Amenda Weir on 54.03. The relay is still strong, however: after Christine Magnuson, on 54.36, and Julia Smith, on 54.38, there followed two other 54-plus efforts, while anyone on the team can race in a relay, including Dara Torres, absent from the solo 100m event.

Torres brought events in Indy to a close with a 25.50 American record in the 50m butterfly exhibition event. That was a best by 0.22sec and just 0.17sec shy of the 25.33 world record held by Marleen Veldhuis (NED) and another warning from a 42-year-old (complete with creaks and pains) still piling the pressure on 25 years after he first Olympic appearance. This season, Torres has gone from 25.84 to 25.72 and now 25.50. Her previous best dated back to 2000, when she put a 26.50 on the clock. 

The US nationals closed with three more shiny suits-era world records, two to Peirsol and the 100m butterfly to Michael Phelps, on the books. That takes to 27 the number of global standards set this year, 24 of those long-course before the major meet of the year, the 13th world championships, unfolds at the Foro Italico in Rome from July 26.

Team USA, to be confirmed by USA Swimming, is a mixture of great experience and exciting new talent. The shiny suits were significant to the results at the US Championships. The USA is sure to figure on the podium in a majority of events in Rome, while areas of weakness include the distance freestyle events.