A Championship In Name Only
May 19, 2012 - Craig Lord
At least 21 solo European titles will not be defended when racing gets underway at the continent's long-course showcase championships in Debrecen, Hungary, on Monday.
If Fred Bousquet (FRA) is uncertain to defend the 50m free crown, because of an injury sustained in racing in the US of late, Alain Bernard, unable to defend his Olympic crown over 100m this summer after finishing outside the top two in domestic trials, will try to salvage some pride by keeping the continental cap.
Paul Biedermann (GER) will defend the 200m crown but there's no Yannick Agnel (FRA) in the 400m, while his teammate Sebastien Rouault is entered in the 400m and 800m freestyle but will not defend the 1500m crown.
No backstroke titles will be defended, Camille Lacourt (FRA) and Stanislav Donets (RUS) racing elsewhere in the lead-up to London 2012.
Breaststroke events will be a sorrowful affair as the continent mourns for Alex Dale Oen (NOR), the 100m champion of world and Europe who died three weeks ago. Fabio Scozzoli (ITA) will defend the 50m breaststroke crown, while home hero Daniel Gyurta, among those who paid worthy tribute to Dale Oen, will defend the 200m crown.
On butterfly, Rafael Munoz (ESP) will defend the 50m title, Evgeny Korotyshkin (RUS) will not defend the 100m and neither will Pawel Korniowski (POL) seek to keep the 200m crown.
On medley, Laszlo Cseh will defend both titles as a member of a host national team expected to line-up come what may.
The sprint free events among women are woefully lacking in the line-up: while Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) and Olympic champion Britta Steffen (GER) will take to their blocks, the 50m and 100m champions of 2010, Therese Alshammar (SWE) and Francesca Halsall (GBR) will not defend their crowns, while joint world 100m champions of 2011, Jeanette Ottesen (DEN) and Aleksandra Herasimenia (UKR) will also be missing, as will the Dutch world leader of the hour, Ranomi Kromowidjojo.
At the other end of the spectrum, Lotte Friis (DEN) will not defend the 800m and 1500m free titles, nor will Britain's Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington defend the 400m crown. Federica Pellegrini (ITA) will defend the 200m title and while a race with Sjostrom would have been a highlight, it won't happen, the Swedish Olympic medal contender avoiding that clash at this point in her preparations for London 2012.
No Gemma Spofforth or Elizabeth Simmonds to defend 100m and 200m backstroke crowns for Britain, Herasimenia not in town to defend the dash title.
Russia bypassing, no breaststroke title will be defended, Yulia Efimova and Anastasia Chaun warming up elsewhere.
Alshammar will not defend the 50m butterfly, nor will Sjostrom seek to keep the 100m crown, top of the entry list another Scandinavian, Ingvild Snildal (NOR), while the 200m title will be defended, Katinka Hosszu back home from California to join the hosts.
Hosszu will also defend the 200m medley but the 400m medley crown will pass, Hannah Miley (GBR) on a different trail to London 2012.
If many title holders have stayed away, the ranks of others missing is wide and deep. Today, German teammates Hendrik Feldwehr (Essen) and Benjamin Starke (Neukölln), pulled out because of injury.
Those who will race will seek to do a fine job at whatever stage they are at on the way to London 2012 and some who already know that they will not make it to the Olympics will perhaps do their very best. Not the fault of swimmers if they stand on podiums when the challenge was somewhat lighter than it would have been in the best of championship conditions. But these will not be the best of championship conditions.
The European Championships held in Olympic year are no longer in the league of events that truly reflect the state of the community gathered for action. A long history thrown off its axis. In 2016, the year of the Rio Games, Britain, which is sending just five to Debrecen (understandable), will need to watch where it places the first Euro l/c event it will have hosted since 1993: could be that the rest of Europe opts to make it its turn not to show up.
Back in 1997 in Seville, LEN, the European swim league, took the decision to move to even years for its l/c showcase at a time when FINA was about to shift up a gear to holding world championships every two years. The message from both federations, FINA and LEN, was that more was definitely more. The profile of the sport would grow accordingly.
More is sometimes less and one of the net effects of striving for an ever bigger catch is depletion. The Olympic-season European championship has been devalued. A great pity for all concerned.