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8

David Davies
of Wales.

SPORTS

THURSDAY
30 March
2006

Swimming
into a new era
BY NIKI CHEONG

LESS than a decade ago, there was a time


when the Australians and Americans were the
most powerful swimmers, where international
sporting events was concerned. While the
Aussies were breaking one world record after
another, the Americans were right at their,
well, feet trying to catch up.
Then, swimmers from other parts of the
world, Malaysians included, suddenly started
emerging from nowhere and threw a spanner
into the works. The Aussies and Americans still
dominated the pool, but the race was no
longer as smooth sailing as it was before.
Things are a-changing.
At the recent Commonwealth Games, the
Australian women swimmers took home 16
out of the total 19 titles up for grabs. However,
only two names made the headline Libby
Lenton and Leisel Jones. Gone are the days
when a whole list of Australians Hayley
Lewis, Susie O Neill, Petria Thomas, Jodie
Henry became the talk of the Games.
In the mens events, things went from bad
to worse even before the Games started. The
first blow was when Grant Hackett announced
that he wouldnt be competing due to a shoulder surgery. Then, Ian Thorpe also pulled out
barely a week before the games due to an illness. Together, Grant and Ian hold 14

ralia.
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Commonwealth Games titles.


In the end, the Australian mens team only
got one gold medal. This is a far cry from
their Games history once, Ian won six
medals at one Games (equalling Susie
Madame Butterfly ONeills record). Even
the likes of Michael Klim, and former
Commonwealth Games gold medallist
Matthew Welsh couldnt help Australia boost
its gold medal tally.
So, who was it that stole Australias (and
possibly soon, the United States) storm?
At the Olympics in Athens two years ago, a
number of different countries came up tops.
Apart from the usual co-domination by the
United States (with their super boy of that year,
Michael Phelps), countries like Japan, China and
the Ukraine showed strong competition.
For Japan, there was that one gold from
Kosuke Kitajima in the mens 100m breaststroke event, which was enough to shake up
the pool. Silver medallist Takashi Yamamoto
(mens 200m butterfly) and bronze medallists
Tomomi Morita (mens 100m backstroke) and
Reiko Nakamura (womens 200m backstroke)
were also surprise wins.
There were a number of other upsets too
like Laure Manaudou of France taking gold in
the womens 400m freestyle, Kirsty Coventry
of Zimbabwe winning gold in the womens
200m backstroke and Chinas Luo Xuejian gold

haul in the womens 100m breaststroke event,


beating favourites like Australias Leisel Jones.
Not forgetting too whenYana Klochkova from
Ukraine bagged the women 400m individual
medley gold from the United States. The
Australians did not even make the finals. They
also did not feature in the mens 4 x 100m
medley finals in which the United States took
gold.
However, the biggest shock at the time
came from South Africa and the Netherlands,
both of whom beat out the swimming giants
in the mens 4 x 100m freestyle relay.
Indeed, the world is waiting with bated
breath for these champions to compete
against each other at the 2008 Olympics in
Beijing. The question that is sure to rise is
whether Australia will be able to rise up again

in the pool events, or whether the United


States still has the staying power.
Another emerging threat that the Aussies
and Americans should be wary of comes from
Scotland, England and Wales. The three countries performance at the recent
Commonwealth Games was impressive.
Scotland brought back 12 medals, of which six
were gold. Welsh swimmer David Davies broke
Australias 48-year dominance of the mens
1,500m freestyle by winning gold.
There were many others too which contributed to the countries combined 15-gold
medal tally. Another thing Australia and the
United States have to consider is the fact that
Scotland, Wales and England will be competing under one team Britain in the
Olympics.
Kosuke Kitajim
a of

Japan.