The top two finishers in the 10km at the Melbourne 2007 World Championships, Larisa Ilchenko (RUS) and Cassie Patten (GBR), repeated their one-two finish at the 5th FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Seville to lead the way into the inaugural 10km Olympic marathon swim in Beijing in August. Ilchenko's sprint finish won the day, just as it did in Melbourne. The bronze medal went to Spain's Yurema Requena.
In fourth place and now among the other history makers bound for the rowing lake in Beijing was shining light Natalie Du Toit, the South African who lost part of one of her legs in an accident but has never once considered herself as anything other than an able-bodied athlete.
Beyond Patten, there was also a place for a second swimmer from Britain who has already made the Olympic team for pool events, Keri-Anne Payne, a sub 4:40 medley swimmer. Both are coached by Sean Kelly at Stockport. If pool swimmers muscled their way into the marathon tank in Beijing, then some of the biggest names in pure open water swimming struggling or failing to make the grade, and having to rely on a second-round qualification for the Games. Among those who must try again: Holland's Edith van Dijk*, Hungarian Rita Kovacs. Australians, who have been strong in the surf, were also among those who must try again, Melissa Gorman and Brooke Fletcher well off the top 10 pace. Beyond Britain, Brazil also celebrated two qualifiers, Poliana Okimoto and Ana Marcela Cunha.
*This from a Dutch reader, for which we are thankful: the rules were changed and the first finisher of each continent OUTSIDE the top 10 also qualifies. So Edith did qualify and will be swimming in Beijing.
Tomorrow, Grant Hackett (AUS) and Davies (GBR) lead the big pool swimmers aiming to make waves in the 10km marathon.
The marathon event, like performances in the pool, is also subject to claims that specific suits approved by FINA are enhancing performances - by minutes in a 10km race. Take this from a marathon suit maker: "e;Swimwear technology is being credited by many people as the reason for the unprecedented number of world records that have been broken in the pool so far this year. New rules have allowed brands to push the boundaries of what technology can do for swimmers."e;
That last sentence is fascinating. There have been no rule changes that have allowed any increase in technological loading since the bodysuit was introduced in 2000, as far as I can see. But boundaries have most certainly been pushed. Some want to shout it from the rooftops, others want it all to go away.
Some suggest that any questioning of this trend spells 'looking backwards'. Not only are they misguided if they feel that history has little to teach us but they miss the point. It is not just about enhancing performance, it is about hypocrisy. Some swimmers and all suit makers say their equipment makes a vast difference, some swimmers and coaches and those who represent them rant back at the media when it reports that the sport has become technically enhanced like never before, and the federations say there is no evidence of gain. We all know there is. Time to admit it and acknowledge what the difference is instead of pretending that we can realistically compare the likes of Alex Popov in a pair of briefs in 2000 and Eamon Sullivan in a surfboard in 2008 (right now, if evidence from the past six weeks and the claims of suit makers are anything to go by, Popov remains the fastest swimmer ever seen), or Shelley Taylor-Smith in a bikini-type suit designed to help keep the jelly fish at bay and those in Seville wearing a shell that keep them up and going for longer when fatigue sets in.