July 14, 2011
WRITTEN SHARON ROBB
With the Summer Olympics a year away, the 14th FINA World Aquatic Championships which begin on Saturday in Shanghai, China will serve as a litmus test for athletes and coaches looking toward the 2012 London Games.
More than a dress rehearsal, the sixteen-day event featuring diving, water polo, synchronized swimming, open water swimming and pool swimming, will gauge training and size up aquatic competition around the world.
Swimmers will get the opportunity to compete in textile suits in a world-class event. Thankfully, there is no longer a swim suit issue that dominated the 2009 Rome World Championships where forty-three world records were broken in the pool.
FINA, the sport’s international governing body, banned the suits after officials realized how much they improved buoyancy and speed. Few swimmers have approached the marks set either in Rome or in the time before the ban went into effect on Jan. 1, 2010.
The swimming events, featuring SOFLO’s two-time Olympian Vlad Polyakov, a St. Thomas Aquinas alum representing Kazakhstan, begin July 24th at the Oriental Sports Center. Polyakov will compete in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events. Polyakov and his teammates leave July 18th for a training camp in Shangahi. He will begin competing on July 24th.
The U.S. team, led by Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, Rebecca Soni and Natalie Coughlin, expected to dominate, is in the midst of a camp in Brisbane, Australia with its new national team director Frank Busch.
“This won’t be the same team to go to London that went to Beijing,” Busch said. “There are no guarantees.
“We’ll be good in Shanghai,” Busch said. “We’re battle-tested. Those swimming to their expectations will feel prepared for the Trials. Those who don’t will have ample motivation to adjust and improve.”
Australia, expected to be the Americans top rivals, is looking to improve its dismal performance in 2009 where the team won only four gold medals. As host country, China, which finished third in swimming events in 2009, would like to challenge the swim powers.
“The importance of these championships can never be overstated in that it is a key leg before the London Olympics and our athletes are competing on the home court,” said Li Hua, secretary general of the China Swimming Association.
More than 2,200 athletes from 181 countries will compete. The first medal to be decided on Saturday will be the women’s three-meter springboard synchro event.
China’s diving powerhouse, competing on its homeland, is expected to dominate men’s and women’s diving. British teenager Tom Daley, who won the platform title in Rome at the age of 15, could be the only non-Chinese diver to win a gold medal.
Daley, 17, is still dealing with the death of his father, Rob, after a five-year battle with cancer. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2006, he passed away with his son and family at his side.
Daley’s chief rival, Olympic gold medalist Matthew Mitcham of Australia, was forced to withdraw from worlds with an abdominal injury.
University of Miami alum Brittany Viola will compete on the 10-meter platform for the U.S. The U.S. men’s team is led by David Boudia, Thomas Finchum and 31-year-old Troy Dumais, a four-time world silver medalist competing in his eighth and last worlds.
Synchronized swimming begins on Sunday with solo and duet events with the Russians expected to dominate. In open water swimming, Americans Alex Meyer and Eva Fabian, who put on a show at nationals in Fort Lauderdale, are among medal favorites.
“I am very excited to represent the United States,” Fabian said.
In water polo, the U.S. men’s team is coming off a fourth place finish at the 2011 FINA World League Super Final and will open competition against Germany on July 18th. Super Final gold medalist Serbia, Italy and
Croatia are expected to battle it out for medals. The U.S. women’s team is a favorite to win gold along with Italy and Australia.
What would any world event be without a few controversies and drug scandal? A potential suspension is hanging over the head of Brazilian Olympic and world freestyle champion Cesar Cielo.
Cielo and three of his teammates tested positive for the banned diuretic Furosemide but got off with just a warning from their own federation. FINA, however, has intervened and Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport will hold a special meeting on July 20 to determine whether they will receive a stiffer penalty. The final decision is due no later than July 22, just two days before swimming begins.
Cielo is the world record holder in the 50 and 100 freestyle and had turned in the fastest 50 freestyle and second fastest 100 this year in Paris last month.
The World Championships will be broadcast in the U.S. on Universal Sports. You can find Universal Sports channel listings by checking out http://www.universalsports.com/tv-listings/Zip Code.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org