The organizers in Malmo put a lot of heart into the fourth leg of the 1997 FINA Swimming World Cup and the opening finals session was showtime. A combination of music, lights, and dancers made for a rollicking ambiance that had the spectators clapping and cheering on cue.
The meet was the best attended so far in the year's series, with 474 swimmers from 27 countries taking part. Newcomers were from Austria, Norway, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Belarus, while Australia returned with a mixed team of rookies and serious World Cup title contenders.
Sweden was out in full force with both national team members, still in heavy training having just returned from South Africa, and a slew of club teams churning up the waters.
Australian National Coach Don Talbot stressed the importance of the World Cup for his swimmers. "We're so far removed from everybody in Australia. We don't have the U.S. next door when we want good racing. We've decided to focus on Europe and Asia for quality meets, because we can come here and have three good meets in 10 days. In the U.S. we'd have to spend a month to get as much.
"Our top swimmers get priority for these meets if they want to go," he went on, "then I complete the team with the up-and-coming kids, such as Leon Dunne and Natasha Bowron." The team in Malmo will go as far as Gelsenkirchen, where they will overlap with another group that will finish the series. "We try to make it tough on them by taking (most of) to only three meets," continued Talbot, "so if they want to win a category they really have to be sharp."
After the conclusion of the second night, marking the halfway point of the 1997 series, FINA's Honorary Secretary, Gunnar Werner, had this to say:
"Things are going very well with this year's World Cup. FINA is again involved in the series after a two year hiatus and all the federations seem very happy with our return. We've seen more nations taking part in each competition than ever before, and I think that it is easier for teams to get travel funding for the event when FINA is involved."
"Also positive is the fact that several other countries are interested in organizing future World Cups, in particular Australia, Brazil and Canada. This is something we will have to consider at our summary meeting in Paris," he continued, adding that the main concerns for the expansion of the World Cup program are the competition calendar and the need to keep a certain balance between each continental series. "We'd like to see another leg in southeast Asia and Oceania, and perhaps even a tour in the Americas," he said.
"As far as Sweden is concerned, we have been organizing this meet for a long time and we are happy with it. The organizers do a great job in making into a show, and that's what it should be."
Fast swimming was in evidence. Danish swimers were on a definite high. After a one-two finish and a national record (59.18) in the women's 100 butterfly on the first night, Mette Jacobsen and Sophia Skou repeated the feat in the 200 fly. Jacobsen swam to a second national record of 2:07.46, the number one time in the world this year. Teammate Skou was second in 2:09.64, also a personal best.
"I had a dream about swimming that fast," said an elated Jacobsen, "but I was still a bit surprised when I saw the time. I just wanted to go better than my best (2:08.28) and this race was just fantastic." Jacobsen will compete in Gelsenkirchen to try to maintain her lead in the Butterfly category (40 points). Britt Raaby, set another Danish national record with her thrid place in the 400 free (4:08.39).
Another high point came from Sweden's Louise Karlsson, who equalled her own world best time of 1:01.03 in the 100 individual medley. After a prolonged illness in the fall and a tough training camp in South Africa, she said she was certainly not expecting to swim so fast in Malmo, "I feel great right now, so I'm going to go home and train really hard for a month or so, and then concentrate on the short course worlds in Gothenburg," she said.
In the men's competition, Jorg Hoffmann, GER, set a German record in the 400 free (3:41.55) yesterday and swam a brilliant 800 race . He brought the whole crowd to its feet, smashing the European record (7:38.75 by Michael Gross, GER, 1985) with his time of 7:36.24.
19-year-old Michael Klim relegated Swedish veteran Anders Holmertz to second place with his win in the 200 freestyle (1:45.99), Klim than was relegated to second in the 100 fly as Finland's Vesa Hanski came from behind to win the 2/100 of a second in 53.40.
Sion Brinn, JAM gave his all in the 50 free, winning in 22.33, establishing a new national record and adding to the suspense of the Sprint Freestyle category as he continues to lead with 59 points to Klim's 40.