x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Swimming records surprise at Dubai world championships

There was clearly no lack of talent; rather a lack of textiles prompting experts to expect hardly a medal but the Short Course event is proving them wrong.

China's women's 4x200-metre freestyle relay team celebrate setting their world record in Dubai.
China's women's 4x200-metre freestyle relay team celebrate setting their world record in Dubai.

In Julio Cesar Maglione's opening address last week marking the start of the Short Course World Championships, the Fina president predicted the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex would bear witness to something memorable.

But even the Italian could not have expected this.

Dubai had welcomed the world's best swimmers for their last meet ing of the year and for the first time in more than a century, the season looked set to close without a single world record having being broken.

There was clearly no lack of talent; rather a lack of textiles.

On January 1, 2010, the high-tech bodysuits that had dominated the swimming scene in the two years previous were outlawed by Fina.

In doing so, a sport that had last year witnessed 60 of its 74 marks being set, suddenly found itself devoid of anything close to record-breaking times: expectations and interest were at risk of waning.

"The non-textile suits are still fresh in the memory and a first world record might be a tall order," observed the English broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday, the day before Dubai's newest venue opened its doors to the public.

The following day Teri McKeever, the US women's swim team coach, agreed.

"If you see one this week, it's going to be a pretty special performance, so take note," McKeever said.

And so we did. We took so many notes, our notebooks almost ran out of pages.

Like a bull in a China shop, it was the People's Republic who started the smashing.

The women's relay team of Chen Quian, Tang Yi, Liu Jing and Zhu Qianwei won the 4x200m freestyle on the opening day, clocking a time of 7mins 35.94secs and shattering by nearly three seconds the world record the Netherlands set two years ago.

Next came Ryan Lochte, the American who in two consecutive days shaved almost two seconds off the 400m individual medley, before lowering the 200m individual medley by 1.5 seconds.

In between his two individual world records, he was also involved in one of the closest fought relays in recent memory, which resulted in both America and Russia besting the men's 4x200m freestyle record.

It was Russia, however, who touched first to clock a new world record of 6.49.04.

"This has been probably the best 25m championships ever organised by Fina," said Cornel Marculescu, an executive director of the sport's world governing body.

"The number of championship records and four world records, for me, is unbelievable and astonishing."

Marculescu later added the results were not related to the "fast pool" that Lochte, Rebecca Soni and other medal-winning swimmers had spoken of.

"I was once a swimmer and such things are more a matter of perception," said the Romanian. "The pool did not help make any world records."

Marculescu was addressing the media in place of Maglione, who found himself stuck in traffic - another scenario the president would surely have not expected given the venue's remote location and, at times, an apparent scarcity of spectators.

Yet the local organising committee (LOC), who had predicted the five-day championships would attract 30,000, yesterday announced attendances had "exceeded expectations" and, following last night's evening session, the final figure was said to sit at "around 38,000".

"With these figures, we feel we have achieved success and Fina have declared that on many occasions," Khalid al Zahed, chief executive of the LOC and vice-director of the championships, said.

"Naturally, not all the tickets were bought; some were, while others we gave away to schools and staff in a bid to raise awareness."

Al Zahed said Fina's acknowledgement of the event's success bodes well for the future of swimming in the emirate.

Dubai was announced as host city of the 2013 Long Course Worlds three years ago, but later withdrew, citing a desire to focus on grassroots swimming instead of plunging the city into the deep end of international aquatics. The 2013 event will now be held in Barcelona, Spain.

Al Zahed, however, suggested last night that Dubai may return to bid for the 2015 World Championships. "We wanted to feel comfortable hosting a swimming event and now that we feel happy and are more confident we look forward to hosting more events and enjoying a longer relationship with Fina over the next three-to-five years," he said.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae