Saturday, October 9, 2010

Commonwealth Games Wrap-Up

The swimming portion of the Commonwealth Games finished up this morning (my time) in Delhi. I spent the week in school, and in my few minutes of free time, I would rush to update the Swimming World Virtual Meet, which compares results of the European Championships, Pan Pacs, and these Commonwealth Games. Though the meet was for the most part slow and relatively uneventful, a few storylines did emerge in the meet's final days, which I would like to shed some light on.

On Friday in their 50 free semi-final, Roland Schoeman and Simon Burnett both false started after a spectator screamed and the starter told the athletes to stand. However, officials permitted both to swim, and both made it into the final. Afterwards, the always-outspoken Schoeman claimed, "It's unacceptable to be at a professional event like this and have people going on like monkeys." Australian media picked up the quote and saw racial undertones, and many proceeded to alienate Schoeman. Since that semi-final, Schoeman has been attacked all across the web, including his Twitter account. On a live blog during today's finals, a Herald Sun reporter in Delhi noted, "Mr Schoeman, he of the 'monkey' comment, goes in Lane 2 here. Shouldn't really be here but anyway..." A commenter named Tim remarked, "at least the arrogant cheat didnt win it," to which the reporter replied, "Indeed, but shouldn't even have silver."

This is horrible treatment of a world class athlete who merely wished to express the complete unprofessionality of the situation in Delhi, which began with two days in the Athlete Village without air conditioning. Quiet for the start isn't much to ask for; at every level I have swam (club, high school, even summer league), starters always have to remind spectators to remain quiet during the start of races. It is not much to ask for. While Schoeman's quote can be interpreted as offensive, he was frustrated with the situation he should not have had to deal with. I support Roland, even as the uninformed continue to insult him.

After finishing up in Delhi with a silver medal in the 100 breast and bronze in the 200 breast, Aussie Christian Sprenger showed uncertainty about his future. Some reports claimed that Sprenger was considering retirement, while most gave this quote: "My ideas about the 200 are crowded, but for the moment that was the last long course 200 of my career." Indeed, Sprenger has struggled so much with the knowledge that he will never again approach his 200 breast world record that he intends to abandon it to focus on the 100 distance. With the return to textile suits, many talked about the mental games the transition have played on the athletes, but no one expected an athlete to switch events! Sprenger has shown much success already with his new 100 focus, winning silvers at both Pan Pacs (behind Kosuke Kitajima) and Commonwealth Games (behind Cameron van der Burgh). Still, he has potential in the 200, and it will be odd to see him avoiding the event. However, Sprenger did remark, "But Libby's (Trickett) coming back from retirement so you can never say never."

Back here in the U.S., Alabama defeated the Auburn men in the pool today in Tuscaloosa, 133-110. What does this have to do with Commonwealth Games? In reality, Auburn's best sprinter (and arguably best swimmer), England's Adam Brown, is in Delhi right now, where he competed in the finals of both the 50 free and 100 free. In addition to Brown's absence, senior Kohlton Norys swam only on Auburn's losing 800 free relay. Aside from those two, Auburn was nearly full strength. Past contributors such as Jared White and Adam Klein could not muster enough strength to win what in the past would have been an easy team. In Auburn's signature events, Alabama freshman Vlad Caciuc and BJ Hornikel defeated the best Auburn could offer in the 50 and 100 free, respectively. Although this is way to early in the season to mean anything, this does not bode well for Auburn's rebound following 2010's disappointing sixth-place finish at NCAA's. If Auburn cannot beat Alabama, clearly they will not be challenging the likes of Cal for the championship this March. Their 14-straight SEC title streak could be coming to an end, with the likes of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama looming as threats. I started a College Swimming thread on the topic, so check it out.

Back to the action in India. Australia's Alicia Coutts and Canada's Brent Hayden emerged from Delhi as the top swimmers of the meet, while England's Liam Tancock and James Goddard, Australia's Leisel Jones, and South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh also put forth top performances. However, no one could surpass Geoff Huegill as the top story of the meet. For two years, many have commented on Huegill's amazing comeback to the sport, losing 40kg in hopes of representing Australia in the 50 fly in Delhi and winning a medal. Huegill completed this run on Tuesday, finishing just behind Kenya's Jason Dunford, finishing just 0.02 shy of a fairytale ending to that comeback.

However, Huegill had another comeback going, and this one has just begun. After qualifying for the Australian team for Delhi in the 50 fly in March, Huegill looked towards the 100 fly. At the Olympics in Sydney, he won bronze in the 100 fly, after posting the fastest time of the meet in the semi-final (51.96). That time remained his lifetime best for the long haul. In 2004, he finished eighth in the 100 fly. In his comeback up until May, the 100 fly had been his secondary event, until he and his coach began experimenting in the longer event, with the possibility of staying around until the 2012 games to race the 100 fly. A strong showing throughout the summer in the 100 fly got Huegill comfortable with the event, and he finished fifth in the event at Pan Pacs, posting a 52.32, his fastest time in nine years. He also split a stellar 51.45 on the medley relay. Although he only finished fifth in the event at Australian Nationals in March, he finished ahead of any other Aussie at Pan Pacs, giving him the opportunity to take up the event for Delhi.

Entering the event at the Commonwealth Games, many considered Dunford the favorite to double up and add the 100 fly win to his win in the 50, especially after Olympic bronze medalist Andrew Lauterstein withdrew from the event with "Delhi Belly." Dunford went out faster than Huegill, but the man known affectionately as "Skippy" came off the wall with the lead and extended it going into the wall. Huegill won in 51.69, tying USA's Tyler McGill as the second fastest swimmer in the world this year. Moreover, ten years after the fact, he beat his best time of 51.96 from the semi-final in Sydney. Afterwards, he committed to a run at the London Olympics in the event, where he will chase the man who has owned the 100 fly for the past four years, Michael Phelps. 51.69 won't medal in London. But Skippy has a chance to do much better and challenge the new generation of butterflyers two years down the line. What began simply as a crusade for better health has become much, much more. Watch that inspiring race here.

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