Work in Sports
Posted: Tuesday May 23, 2000 05:11 PM
Swim marks tumble down under
After Aussie butterfly monarch Michael Klim swam the fourth-fastest 100-meter time ever last Thursday in the semifinals at the Australian Olympic trials, he emerged from the water to cheers of approval -- and sighs of disappointment. Pool flies at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre (SIAC), which will be the swimming venue for the Olympics in September, have come to expect historic performances at the pool, where the announcement of world records over the P.A. system has begun to sound like, well, a broken record.
While the controversial neck-to-ankle suits worn by a handful of top swimmers could be contributing to the falling marks, it's no coincidence that of the 26 world records that have been set over the past two years and still stand, 14 have come at the SIAC. Last week three Aussies combined to set five world marks: Geoff Huegill in the 50 fly (a non-Olympic event), Susie O'Neill in the 200 fly (breaking Mary T. Meagher's 19-year-old record, the oldest mark in swimming) and Ian Thorpe, twice in the 200 freestyle and once in the 400 free.
What makes Sydney's six-year-old facility a swimmer's Shangri-la? For one thing, the pool was designed to be fast, beginning with the steeply sloped starting blocks. An uncommonly high minimum depth of two meters helps reduce waves, as do thick plastic lane ropes, the closing of the two outside lanes and the fact that the water is level with the deck. The water is treated with ozone to reduce the irritation, odor and taste of chlorine and is kept at 78.8°, slightly warmer than in most other top pools. These factors add up to what U.S backstroker Lenny Krayzelburg, who set three world records at the SIAC last August, calls "the smoothest, nicest swim you ever had."
The pool's builders have also created a high-intensity atmosphere outside the water. Rock music blasts before each event, and powerful lights blaze overhead, lending the place an intense, Thunderdome feel. Then there are the swim-crazy Australian fans, whose primary objective during the Olympics will be to boo the home team's biggest rivals, the Americans, out of the water. Recent expansion increased the venue's capacity to up to 17,000 spectators in super-steep bleachers. Thorpe says the SIAC is the only place where he can hear fans cheering during a race.
Techno- and psychobabble aside, many insiders attribute the recent rash of records primarily to a crop of swimmers that's the best in more than a decade. "If you're going to swim fast," said Australian coach Don Talbot after six records were broken in three days at the Pan Pacific Championships last August, "you'll swim fast in molasses."
Issue date: May 29, 2000
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