The 2010 Dubai World Championships are in the book, and despite some great opposition from the rest of the world, the Americans still stood on top of the medal charts.
First, let’s start with some awards:Male Swimmer of the Meet – Ryan Lochte (USA) – There was no question about this one. Lochte set two World Records, the only individual ones of the meet, and won 5 individual golds along with one relay victory in the men’s medley. Women’s swimmer of the Meet – Mireia Belmonte Garcia (Spain) – This was a little big of a tighter battle, but I give Belmonte the edge because of her meet schedule. Not only did she win 3 golds and 1 silver, but she did it in about the hardest event schedule a woman can undertake. She took wins in the 200 and 400 IM’s, the latter on the same day as she won the 200 fly, and was runner-up in the 800 free. Honorable mention goes to the USA’s Rebecca Soni. Men’s 18 & Under Swimmer of the Meet – Chad le Clos (South Africa) – Le Clos took an impressive victory in the men’s 200 fly, against a field of grown men who were obviously more physically gigantic than him. Winning a tough 200 fly against a tough field while only a teenager. Sound familiar? It’s too early to draw comparisons to a young Mr. Phelps, but still an impressive perfromance none-the-less. Women’s 18 & Under Swimmer of the Meet – Missy Franklin (USA) – This was a tough decision, but the nod goes to Missy Franklin for taking silver in the 200 backstroke, in addition to several other pretty good swims. At only 15, she is going to be a monster when she gets older. She’s already swimming an extremely difficult schedule, and within a few more years, she’s going to be the latest swimmer that the media will label “the female Phelps (or maybe Lochte?).” Kudos goes to Australian 16-year old Kotuku Ngawati.
Now lets look at the big winners from the 2010 Short Course World Championships
1. Cesar Cielo – The Brazilian was clearly frustrated over the summer after his performance at the Pan Pac Championships. He was able to channel that frustration into some serious training, and turned things around in a big way here by sweeping the sprint freestyles and reestablishing himself as the best sprinter in the World. The only serious challenger that was missing from this meet was Brent Hayden from Canada (unless Phelps or Lochte decides to get in on the action).
2. Brett Hawke – The Australian-turned American coach of the Auburn swim program has gotten a lot of media flack in the past years. His NCAA programs didn’t do as well as many had hoped in March, and his swimmers on the club side, including the aforementioned Cielo, had a disappointing summer season. Cielo, in fact, even discussed leaving the Auburn program to return to Brazil to train. But at this meet, his sprinters were back en force. Fred Bousquet and Cesar Cielo were the two best sprinters at this meet, showing that Hawke might be settling in at the helm of the Mighty Auburn program.
3. The Youth Olympic Games – When the Youth Olympic Games were first thought up by IOC president Jacques Rogge in 2001, swimming was envisioned as the major focal point. This is because swimmers, moreso than almost every other sport, can become international stars while still in the youth ranks. When the first event rolled around in 2010, the meet was poo-pooed by many of the top federations, like the Americans and British, as not having a high enough level of competition to send their top group of young swimmers.
The IOC got to stuff a big “I told you so” in the faces of their doubters when the two stars, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Yi Tang from China, followed Youth Olympic success with World Championship Gold. Le Clos took the win in the 200 fly, and Tang scored three relay medals (including two World Records) and a fourth place 200 free finish. Australia’s Kenneth To went without a medal, but he was another YOG vet who had a great meet. I’d expect the level of competition at the next event in 2014 to spike significantly.
4. Rebecca Soni – She does it long course. She does it short course. And now, she even wins the 50’s. With her emphatics sweep of the breaststroke events in Dubai, Soni has slapped a big “Catch Me if You Can” stamp on her ticket to London in 2012.
5. American Records – Coming into this meet, the short course meters American records didn’t mean much. They were usually swum by swimmers who hadn’t focused on that meet, were the second-tier of the National Team, and in many cases weren’t even the fastest times swum by Americans, thanks to the rubber suit mess. (Long story short, USA Swimming outlawed rubber suits before FINA, so Americans swimming in FINA meets set World Records that didn’t count as ratified American Records).
But after taking a very strong crew to Dubai, maybe the first time the Americans have ever done so, and breaking nearly every American record, they will actually mean something at future meets. Gone are the days when a handful of American swimmers can look at each of the American Records and say “oh yeah, I could beat that time if I wanted to.”
6. The Russian National Team – Russian Swimming has taken a big hit in recent years. At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they won only 4 total medals: one of which was from open water swimming. They matched that count in golds alone in Dubai, and took 10 medals overall (all on the men’s side). Stanislav Donets, who swept the backstroke sprints and came within a hair of a World Record in a relay leadoff, was the big star for Russia, but they also had fantastic performances from Danila Izotov and Evgeny Korotyshkin. The big question for that team now is whether or not they can carry the success over to long course swimming.
7. Younger Brothers – Germany’s Markus Deibler, who is the younger brother of World Record holder Steffen Deibler, really began to make a name for himself at this meet, and bested his brother’s 50 fly bronze with a 100 IM silver of his own. As an indication of the fame difference between the two, the younger Markus didn’t even have a Wikipedia page prior to this event. Now, the 20-year-old World Championship silver medalist should have no problem being recognized alongside his brother on the German National Team.
8. Australians Who Stayed Home – The Australian National Team has had one heck of a busy 9 months. In that period, they’ve had long course Nationals in March (which served as qualifying for Pan Pacs and the Commonwealth Games), Short Course Nationals in July, Pan Pacs in August, the Commonwealth Games in August, the Commonwealth Games in October, and now Short Course Worlds in Dubai. They’ve traveled all around the world, from India, to Irvine, to Dubai, and back home to Australia. Many Australians chose to skip this meet, notably Emily Seebohm and Jessica Schipper, and others, like Leisel Jones, swam bare-bones schedules.
A few swimmers, like Felicity Galvez and Kylie Palmer, thrived in this meet and had great swims. Others, like Marieke Guehrer and Geoff Huegill, were too worn out. In general, the Australians didn’t swim anywhere near the world-best times they had recorded back at SC Nationals in July. Though there are problems with the American system, where short course Worlds rosters are determined by long course meets, at least the American swimmers were fresh for the meet.
9. Men’s College Swimming – Despite swimmers tending to lean more-and-more towards going pro early in their careers, NCAA Swimming still proves to be one of the best training grounds for budding superstars. This is evidenced by the fact that, including all of the international swimmers, there were 21 medals won by swimmers who spent at least 3 seasons training within the guidelines of NCAA swimming. This inlcudes three events, the 50 free, 200 IM, and 400 IM, where the event was swept by former collegians. Chalk one up for the maturity and responsibility that swimmers have to learn while balancing training in a rigorous academic environment.
10. Luiz Moreno – Often times, swimmers are trained to impressive performances by certain coaches, and then leave those coaches for greener pastures at the slightest sign of a problem. Sometimes, this situation works out (like Ariana Kukors and Katie Hoff moving to FAST). But it’s always a great thing when the coach who created the beasts get to reap the international recognition. Hawke at Auburn, Salo with Soni and Ous Mellouli at USC, and Troy with Lochte.
But none of these stories is greater than Albert Subirats of Venezuela. As we mentioned several times throughout the week, Subirats has bounced around between programs in recent years. He left Arizona, where he had so much collegiate success, to train with Marseilles in France. After a short stint there, he headed back to his native country to train with his former age group coach Luiz Moreno, who led him to Subirats’ first ever World Championship in the 50 fly. Subirats also scored a silver in the 100 fly. Something inside of me just loves it when an age group coach gets a one-up on the huge-name coaches.
Despite missing a few of the biggest names in the swimming world, like Michael Phelps, this meet was a big success from a competitive standpoint. Every race had a huge storyline, and 55 meet records were broken. This huge number of records is a sign of the relative success of this meet, and of the increasing profile of these Short Course World Championships
We also had four World Records broken, showing that the immense improvement in times over the past two years hasn’t only been a result of the suits, and that we have not seen an end of World Records forever.
So good was the swimming that it overshadowed much of the organizational failings. First, there was the well-documented issue with the Israeli visas. Besides that, the huge 10,000-seat swimming-specific venue appeared to be no more than a quarter full for the majority of the competition.
But this meet was a perfect representation of the juxtaposition between the direction our sport is moving and the direction that our governing bodies are moving. Competitively, this sport has never been bigger, more popular, or more successful. Administratively, this sport has seemingly never been more political, and controversial. In the end, the memories of this meet will be the cultural experiences of the athletes and the swims that happened in the pool, which is exactly the way things should be. Hopefully, FINA and USA-Swimming catches on to this and rights themselves in time to continue the forward momentum that the swimmers are producing.