Beijing Form Guide: Women's Backstroke
Aug 3, 2008
Craig Lord

Precisely a year before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, SwimNews put together a form guide for events in Beijing. It was August 2007. A year on, we start our preview build-up to the Games in Beijing with a look at how the seascape has changed, who is still in the race, who is out and where the medals are likely to go.

Today:
Women's Backstroke

Overview:

The impact on women's backstroke events of the latest generation of bodysuits since the launch of the Speedo LZR Racer is unavoidable unless someone can explain the reason for a seventh-wave surge that is not just about the high number of world records broken since February. Take a look behind the mask of the world record:


100m: 10/10 all-time performers from 2008; 20/30 entries from 2008 (including all top 13 entries)
200m: 7/10 all-time performers from 2008; 16/30 entries from 2008

The burning questions: Can anyone join Natalie Coughlin in the sub 59 club in the 100m? For who will the pendulum swing in the Hoelzer-Coventry see-saw battle in the 200m? And has there ever been a tighter field or one so affected by suit technology? The exam question would run: all 10 of the best 100m times ever swum were witnessed since February. Explain. You can fill in the blanks.

And on that note, here's what's in store:

 

THE BEIJING FORM GUIDE

100m BACKSTROKE


World record: 58.97 - Natalie Coughlin (USA), Omaha, 1.7.08
Olympic champion: Coughlin 1:00.37
World champion: Coughlin 59.44

The picture in August 2007:


3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Coughlin; Manaudou; Reiko Nakamura (JPN)
2 Breakers: Emily Seebohm (AUS); Elizabeth Simmonds (GBR)
2 Bubbling Under: Kirsty Coventry (ZIM); Hanae Ito (JPN)
1 On The Edge: Sophie Edington (AUS)
Don't forget: Margaret Hoelzer (USA); Leila Vaziri (USA); Irina Amshennikova (UKR); Anastasia Zueva (RUS); Hanae Ito (JPN)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
59.44 Coughlin (USA) 2007
59.85 Coventry (ZIM) 2007
59.87 Manaudou (FRA) 2007
1:00.16 He Cihong (CHN)* 1994
1:00.21 Mocanu (ROM) 2000
1:00.22 Zhen Yingjuan 1997 (1996 best: 1:04.71)
1:00.29 Nakamura (JPN)
1:00.31 Egerszegi (HUN)
1:00.33 Buschschulte (GER)
1:00.48 Ornstedt (DEN)
New impact on all-time top 10: Manaudou; Nakamura
*-A member of the 1994 Chinese squad whose results were subsequently tainted when seven of them tested positive for banned substances. He Cihong was not one of the seven but never came close to her 1994 form again.

The picture in August 2008:


Just three women had notched up little more than a handful of sub-minute swims by the last turn of the year. On the eve of the Olympic Games, the tally is 33 performances. Dams build and then they burst but the era of Egerszegi and the like has been swamped by a flash flood of massive impact. Here is the example of change in one event across the board that is so significant that it cannot simply be explained by harder and smarter training. Other reasons in the past have been doping and rule changes. We assume all 33 efforts are clean, while rule change is not applicable this time. Which leaves you know what.
The World Top 10, 2008:
58.97 Coughlin, Natalie USA 2007 59.44
59.15 McGregory, Hayley USA 2007 1:00.93
59.21 Hoelzer, Margaret USA 2007 1:00.66
59.41 Zueva, Anastasia RUS 2007 1:00.85
59.42 Coventry, Kirsty ZIM 2007 59.85
59.50 Manaudou, Laure FRA 2007 59.87
59.59 Seebohm, Emily AUS 2007 1:00.51
59.81 Zhao, Jing CHN 2007 1:01.85
59.82 Nakamura, Reiko JPN 2007 1:00.29
59.83 Ito, Hanae JPN 2007 1:00.62
Danger just outside the top 10: also under the minute: Sophie Edington (AUS); Gemma Spofforth (GBR).

 

The Battle: Manaudou, bronze medallist at the last Olympics, says backstroke gives her more pleasure than freestyle and she will face considerable opposition in Beijing, chiefly from reigning Olympic champion Coughlin, who lowered the world record twice this year, leaving it at 58.97 at the U.S. trials. Fellow American Margaret Hoelzer and Olympic silver medallist Kirsty Coventry will be in the medal mix, alongside Russia's Anastasia Zueva who took the European title from Manaudou in March.

Most consistent: Coughlin - has six of the top 11 best performances in 2008.

History: Of the 19 finals contested since 1924, the USA leads the way with 10 golden moments, while Americans have also taken the lioness's share of all medals, stepping onto the podium 21 times out of 57 possibilities. Marie Braun (NED) was among early champions to upset the US roll of honour in an event that has seen just three women have set a world record to win the title: Cathy Ferguson (USA), 1964; Kaye Hall (USA) 1968; and Rica Reinisch (GDR), 1980. As with most women's events, the picture of progress is skewed by the dawn of the steroid years. Over 100m, the 1:05.78 win for Melissa Belote (USA) in 1972 paled when compared to the 1:01.83 storm that blew Ulrike Richter (GDR) to the top of the podium just four years later. Rica Reinisch's 1:00.86 triumph in 1980 would still have won a medal in 2004 and would have challenged for the gold at all Olympic Games since Moscow. Her speedy moment also witnessed the only occasion in history to witness a clean sweep over 100m backstroke, the GDR taking all prizes at the boycotted Moscow Games. Reinisch was among the brave women who faced their abusers in court long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and helped to expose the full horror of State Plan 14:25 and the plying of generations of athletes across all Olympic sports with steroids and related substances, some that were never tested on mice and rats nor clinically trialled among consenting adults, children, parents or anyone else that wasn't working for a rotten regime: the political elite colluded with and to some degree coerced the medical and coaching professions, each of those groups seeing fit to supercharge the next generation while thinking it worth the risk that turned to reality for some in the form of heart, back, liver, reproductive and other serious health defects. Perverse. Ferguson's 1:07.7 world record in 1964 led the first sub 1:10 podium, while Nancy Garapick (CAN) ensured the first sub 1:05 (and 1:04) podium in 1976 with East Germans ahead of her. Kristin Otto, the last Wundermadchen, was the first to win the 100m crown on the minute (1:00.89), while Athens 2004 saw the first occasion where all three medallists were capable of that speed, the crown going to Natalie Coughlin (USA) in 1:00.37 two years after she had become the first woman inside the minute. The longest-held record, the 1:00.16 of He Cihong from 1994, stands in the house of most dubious moments at the heart of the China doping crisis of the 1990s, even though there was no positive test. He Cihong subsequently lost form as fast as she had gained it.

Fastest: 1:00.17 (semi-final) and 1:00.37 (final), Natalie Coughlin (USA).
World Record wins: Ferguson, 1964, Hall, 1968, Reinisch, 1980.
Biggest margin: Sybil Bauer's 1:23.2 in 1924 brought her victory by 4.2sec. Bauer died of cancer in 1927 at 22. Five years earlier, she swam 440 yards backstroke faster (6min 24) than any man had at the time. In the modern era, the blue pills fuelled Richter to the helm by 1.58sec in 1980.
Closest shave: The GDR won all three titles that they could have won, in 1976, 1980 and 1988 on the back of State Plan 14:25, and we will never know what the likes of Reinisch might have been capable of off her own steam and whether Garapick, among others, might have been an Olympic champion.

200M BACKSTROKE


World record: 2:06.09 - Margaret Hoelzer (USA), Omaha, 5.7.08
Olympic champion: Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) 2:09.19
World champion: Hoelzer, 2:07.16

The picture in August 2007:

3 Proven Protagonists From 2007: Hoelzer; Coventry; Nakamura
2 Breakers: Teresa Crippen (USA); Simmonds
2 Bubbling Under: Alessia Filippi (ITA); Esther Baron (FRA)
1 On The Edge: Ito
Don't forget: Manaudou if she wants it; Coughlin if she wants it; Stanislava Komarova (RUS)
All-time top 10, end 2007:
2:06.62 Egerszegi (HUN) 1991
2:06.83 Coventry (ZIM) 2007
2:07.16 Hoelzer (USA) 2007
2:07.40 He Cihong (CHN) 1994
2:08.16 Mocanu (ROM) 2000
2:08.51 Zhen (CHN) 1997
2:08.53 Coughlin (USA) 2002
2:08.54 Nakamura (JPN) 2007
2:08.60 Mitchell (USA) 1986
2:08.74 Sexton (GBR) 2003
New impact on all-time top 10: Hoelzer; Coventry; Nakamura

The picture in August 2008:


Just three women in the all-time best 10 made it there before 2008: Egerszegi because she was extraordinary in her flimsy old-style costume with human skin dragging her back...; He Cihong courtesy of the festering regime of Zhou Ming and others generations of Chinese children in the 1990s; and Diana Mocanu, a teenager who leapt from a 2:15 best in 1999 to the Olympic crown in a 2:08 in Sydney. And seven of the top 10 reflect big gains from significantly outside 2:10 to significantly inside that mark within a year. Aspiration, higher sight-setting, coaching and the suits have all contributed, the suit more than some would like to admit, even in the 200m. Comparing Egerszegi to this current generation is pointless. The Hungarian's suit did not enhance her performance.
The World Top 10, 2008:
2:06.09 Hoelzer, Margaret USA 2007 2:07.16
2:06.39 Coventry, Kirsty ZIM 2007 2:06.83
2:06.64 Manaudou, Laure FRA 2007 2:14.39
2:06.92 Beisel, Elizabeth USA 2007 2:11.91
2:07.69 McGregory, Hayley USA 2007 2:14.60
2:07.94 Castel, Alexianne FRA 2007 2:13.82
2:08.34 Nakamura, Reiko JPN 2007 2:08.54
2:08.41 Zhao, Jing CHN 2007 2:12.18
2:08.55 Nay, Meagen AUS 2007 2:11.13
2:08.56 Zueva, Anastasia RUS 2007 2:12.90

Danger just outside the top 10: hungry teenagers Belinda Hocking (AUS) and Elizabeth Simmonds (GBR) are just inside 2:09, while Ito Hanae (JPN) is up to a low 2:09 from a 2:14 in 2007, and Alexandra Putra (FRA) has leapt to within a fingernail of Hanae's time from a 2007 best of 2:13.02

The Battle: The Hoelzer-Coventry see-saw has delivered bells, whistles and headlines. Both have been world champion, both world record holders, Coventry has the Olympic crown in her treasury and her times at world s/c championships sent steam off the surface. In the relative shadow of those two and her own achievements on freestyle, Manaudou has been creeping up. On paper, her potential is stunning. A 2:05 should not surprise. But can she do it at a Games where she will need to deliver a thunder-and-lightning performance to retain the crown she craves more than any other, the 400m free? And what of 15-year-old Beisel, the baby of the mighty US - less pressure, less to lose in the midst of the giants in her midst. How will she cope with the biggest moment of her young career? All have technical efficiency on their side. If Manaudou can harness the racing tigress we witnessed in Melbourne, she will be tough to beat, a competitor who, at least under the guidance of coach Philippe Lucas, was not afraid to blaze a trail of splits that had previously been considered to be suicidal. It was an approach that finally did for long-term standard-bearers Evans and Van Almsick on freestyle.

Most consistent: Manaudou and Beisel both have three entries each in the best 10 performances of the year, all 2:08 flat or quicker.

History:a rare event where the USA does not come out on top. Courtesy of the sole efforts of Krisztina Egerszegi, Hungary tops the table with three gold medals from the 10 finals held since 1968. The GDR, with two wins, three silvers and a bronze (six medals out of the nine chances they had between 1976 and 1988), is second-best with American women falling a bronze medal shy of that. As with the 100m, progress is subject to the effect of the steroid era. After Melissa Belote (USA) won the 1972 crown in 2:19.19, a world record and first sub-2:20 swim, she returned to clock a 2:17.27 four years later - only to find herself fifth and almost four seconds off the pace of Richter?s 2:13.43 victory in a final that produced the same podium as the 100m, Garapick clasping bronze on a 2:15.60 that in another world would surely have granted her a bigger place in history. Beyond Belote, Reinisch is the only other woman to win the crown in world-record time, her 2:11.77 in 1980 a best time that pulverized the best time she had celebrated just eight weeks before the Games: 2:15.59. How the doctors and their political masters must have smiled back home. Reinisch has suffered a lifetime of serious ill health ever since. The race produced the only clean sweep ? to the GDR - in the history of the event, the bronze going to 1976 silver medalist Birgit Treiber, the only other woman beyond Egerszegi to win a medal over 200m at more than one Games. The historic last of Egerszegi's three victories also marked the biggest gulf between winner and eight place ever seen (just shy of seven seconds). In 2000, breakout junior Diana Mocanu (ROM), who was tipped for a worthy place in a final back home, produced two of the biggest bolts from the blueto join Belote, Richter, Reinisch and Egerszegi in the club of those who have won both the 100 and 200m. The first sub-2:20 final was witnessed in Montreal in 1976, while Barcelona in 1992 saw eight women race below 2:15 (and 2:14) for the first time. Though the winning speed was significantly slower than Egerszegi's 1992 effort of 2:07.06, the Athens final produced the tightest race ever seen, both in determining gold and also in terms of the margin from gold to last: 3.71sec, less than the Hungarian's record winning margin from gold to silver in 1996. Athens also witnessed the first sub-2:10 podium, Reiko Nakamura (JPN) and Antje Buschschulte (GER) sharing bronze on 2:09.88.


Fastest: 2:07.06, Egerszegi (HUN), 1992
World Record wins: Belote, 1972, Reinisch, 1980.
Biggest margin: Egerszegi's last victory, of 2:07.83 in Atlanta 1996, left her 4.15sec ahead of the nearest in a field of what might loosely be called rivals.
Closest shave: the closest to close is the 2:09.19 win by Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) over Stanislava Komarova (RUS), on 2:09.72, in Athens, 2004.
Most controversial: Nothing beats beating the world for the best part of 20 years on the back of a doping regime.