Connect with Us:  

On The Eve Of Battle In Istanbul

Dec 11, 2012  - Craig Lord

Olympic year and the Games done, Phelps done, Franklin back at school, French heroes Agnel and Muffat, having wowed a home crowd in Chartres, now missing among the many in transition: it was never going to be easy to bill Istanbul 2012 world short-course championships as the year-end swim bonanza that the battle of the little pool can be.

Less than 1,000 tickets have been sold so far across the five days of competition from tomorrow until Sunday at the Sinan Erdem Dome, which can seat several thousand. Things might pick up after the Turkish sports ministry turned up in numbers in support of the event here this morning as sun lit up this spectacular city a day after it was drenched under a mournful winter sky.

The Turkish Minister of Youth and Sport, Suat Kilic, told the media this morning that the championships and the venue here in Istanbul constitute "a milestone for the Turkish sport and the Turkish youth. We are very proud and enthusiastic about this organisation and the impact it will bring to our country. Moreover, the championships will be held in an iconic venue in Istanbul, one of the largest arenas in Europe."

The venue is ready, the stage set, the hosts, with help from around the world of swim-meet expertise, prepared to deliver the conditions and back-up for the world-class show promised by athletes and coaches. The first heat yet to be swum, thoughts turned briefly to 2016 this morning. 

The next championships will be staged in Windsor, Canada, in a joint effort with Detroit in the US (and not an official link with the USA or USA Swimming), where all the hotels are. There's a bridge and water between the two places - and a border control. Interesting to see how the issue of teams having to stop to have their passports checked four times a day will be resolved. Two years to go - and no doubting the enthusiasm of a delighted team from Windsor as FINA made its decision known in Istanbul.

In a Swim Canada statement, Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said: "The fact that we’re moving forward and Detroit is going to be helping us get the region ready to welcome the world is going to be an exciting and unique aspect of the bid, and a unique and exciting aspect of our hosting the FINA world championships in 2016. People that come will be able to experience this massive and significant event with one destination against the backdrop of two countries.”

He then let the politician get the better of him, adding: "You can see by the record numbers in attendance and countries, this is where everybody wants to be. This is where world records are shattered." Actually, not everybody does want to be here - and many big names are missing - and that reflects the nature of short-course swimming in Olympic year.

Pierre Lafontaine, CEO of Swim Canada, focussed on the good that can come of playing host to the world: “What a great day today for us in Canada. I think hosting the world short course in Windsor will be a brilliant opportunity for us to not just showcase Canada and showcase Windsor, but also to inspire the next generation."

The Canadian bid beat off competition from Hong Kong, UAE and Turkmenistan.

Back to 2012: nine solo Olympic champions, five men, three women, made it from London to Istanbul. They are Florent Manaudou (50m free, FRA); Matt Grevers (100m backstroke, 4x100m medley, USA); Daniel Gyurta (200m breaststroke WR, HUN); Chad Le Clos (200m butterfly, RSA, a famous fingernail ahead of Michael Phelps); and Ryan Lochte (400IM gold among five medals in all, USA); Allison Schmitt (200m freestyle, 4x200m free, 4x100m medley, 400m free silver, USA); Ruta Meilutyte (100m breaststroke, LTU); and Ye Shiwen (200, 400IM, CHN).  There is is Jiao Liuyang: the London 2012 200 'fly champion is entered in her best event without a time and will therefore race in thee first heat alongside swimmers with best times of 2:21 and slower.

There are many missing but just the names above are well worth turning up for after a momentous summer in the Year of the Teenage Bolter (and Trauma on the Comeback Trail). If Meilutye's victory over Rebecca Soni in the 100m breaststroke brought the 15-year-old fame and presidential honour in her home land of Lithuania, then the exploits of 16-year-old Ye remain the subject of debate well beyond the world of swimming as she became the first woman in history ever to swim as fast as the male finalists in the closing stages of a battle for the podium.

Start lists in full at Omega

As Ye prepares for a follow-up, let's remind ourselves of day one at London 2012:

  • Ye's 29.75 penultimate length of the 400m medley was faster than five in the men's final, including Michael Phelps and was just 0.04 and 0.07sec slower than two others and 0.2sec slower than the split of Lochte on his way to gold in the fastest swim ever in a textile suit
  • Ye's last length, of 28.93, was faster than four in the men's final, including the 29.10 homecoming effort of Lochte and the 29.34 of silver medallist Thiago Pereira (BRA)
  • Ye's last 100m of 58.68 was just 0.03sec slower than Lochte's homecoming speed to the best men's effort ever in textile suit
  • Ye's 58.68 crushed all other women's last 100m swims, the second best in the field China's other medal winner, Li Xuanxu, on 1:01.58, with world champion Elizabeth Beisel (USA), on 1:02.30 for a total time 3sec down on Ye's but beyond Ye the fastest effort ever in a textile suit, that 3sec gain on Beisel all reaped on freestyle
  • Ye's 28.93 homecoming 50m was faster than any split in the Olympic 200m and 400m freestyle finals.
  • Ye's 28.93 last 50m on medley stands out against last 50m splits of 29.26 and 29.66, for Schmitt and Muffat coming home to gold and silver over 200m
  • Ye's 58.68 last 100m of the 400m medley stands out against a 400m freestyle final in which there was not a single sub-minute split in the fastest field the world had ever seen
  • Ye's best 100m and 200m free times, 55.38 and 1:58.77, compare to Muffat's best time of 53.97, 1:54.66 (and 4:01.13 over 400m)

None of those who stood on the medley podiums in London alongside Ye have included Istanbul in their 2012 plans, though the Chinese teenager will not be without competition, world cup queen Katinka Hosszu, her Hungarian teammate Zsuzsanna Jakabos and Hannah Miley (GBR) in the mix.

Penning the above facts elicits criticism that it is unfair to single Ye out when others have made great strides too. I add this to that argument and make no excuses for it:

Scrutiny and noting aberration - in a world of more than 40 positive steroid cases from China in the 1990s, in a world that gave us the GDR's State Plan 14:25, in a world in which not a single champion from Ender to Otto ever tested positive, in a world in which neither Jones nor Armstrong ever tested positive - is crucial. It is not about being unfair to Ye, rather it is about recording unavoidable aberration with relevant statistics that can be found nowhere else in swimming history and about those who have treated and may still treat teenage athletes to a type of unfairness that is wholly more toxic than any noting of astonishing facts and scratching of heads.

Other highlights to look forward to include: 

  • the sub 21sec dash club of Manaudou, Anthony Ervin (USA), George Bovell (TRI) and Vladimir Morozov (RUS). An official statement also has Fred Bousquet down for the race but the entry list confirms that Amaury Leveaux is France's second man in the water.
  • Gyurta takes on Akihiro Yamaguchi, the Japanese rival who claimed the Hungarian's world 200m long-course record after London 2012, and Olympic silver medallist Michael Jamieson (GBR) in the 200m breaststroke (see note below), with Takahashi, Borysik, Lobanov, Willis, Sinkevich, Koch and Weltz making the 200m one of the most hotly contested events of the meet.
  • Grevers will take on the 100 free men as well as the sprint backstroke and Ryan Lochte takes on Paul Biedermann over 200m free.
  • Meilutyte takes on Jessica Hardy (USA) and others in the 100m breaststroke and Rikke Pedersen (DEN) takes on Sally Foster (AUS) and others in the 200m breaststroke
  • Lochte takes on Conor Dwyer (USA), Laszlo Cseh (HUN), Japan's Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto, and Aussie world cup winner Kenneth To in the short medley (watch for China's Wu Peng - he will race the 200m medley and the 100m butterfly from the first heat because he has no entry time), with Cseh and the Japanese pair favourites for the podium over 400m
  • Le Clos faces To, Alemida, Skvortsov, Shields, Lochte, Dunford, Verlinden and Munoz over 100m butterfly and Kaneda, Stjepanovic, Cseh and Kobori, among others, over 200m butterfly

While Gyurta has talked about attacking the world record, Jamieson says that he does not think he has a 2min flat in him but is hungry for a podium place. He had to contend with a flood before taking the plunge in Istanbul, 17-year-old teammate and roommate Matthew Johnson tweeting: "Would like to apologise to @mj88live for the flooded bathroom while I was shaving down :/ #ShavingDisaster #OnlyYoung

Istanbul marks Britain's first outing since the London 2012 Games and a subsequent review into performances ahead of a funding announcement for Rio 2016 due today in London. Jamieson's coach Dave McNulty was among those who have every reason to look back a home Games with pride. 

As head coach in Istanbul this week, he said today: "We've all had our breaks after the Olympics and I think it is great to get back into swimming and to start the four years (Olympic cycle) again. There have been a few distractions but this is the part we all like doing - we like to coach, we like to swim. We've put everything behind us and are just moving on with swimming - and that's the main thing. 

"I am speaking to the group tonight and one of the things I want to say is - you can be a World Championship semi-finalist, or finalist or medallist and this is a great opportunity to take. When you do the long-course worlds that is really hard but you can be a world finalist or medallist and add that to your CV, and I think that is what I am going to push tonight - there are opportunities there."

The championships have attracted almost 1,000 swimmers from 162 nations, the vast majority of which belong to the world of development programmes.