World Championships

Few World Records Appear Safe

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009

ROME, July 26 -- Of the six world records broken Sunday on the opening night of the swimming world championships, Germany's Paul Biedermann toppled the most hallowed one and then looked positively apologetic about what he had just done.

Biedermann, 22, has never won an Olympic or world championship medal, yet he surpassed Australian legend Ian Thorpe's seven-year-old record in the 400-meter freestyle final by a hundredth of a second with his finish in 3 minutes 40.07 seconds.

"I thought [that record] would never be broken," U.S. men's Coach Bob Bowman said.

After the race, Biedermann gave credit to his Arena X-Glide suit, one of the controversial, high-tech speedsuits that led the world governing body of swimming (FINA) to ban long-length suits for next year.

"I really have to say, it was also the suit," Biedermann said. "It was not only the suit, but it was a really big help."

Biedermann also said: "The suit makes me really fast. Honestly, I think it was about two seconds in the race. . . . I think the suits are destroying, a little bit, the sport. . . . It's just put on a suit, and you're really, really fast."

As records fell, one after the other, Sunday night, many agreed.

"Back where the athletes are hanging out, they're sort of saying, 'This is crazy,' " said Dara Torres, 42, who swam on the U.S. women's 400-meter freestyle relay team that finished fourth, well behind a Dutch team that broke the world record. "Unfortunately, you have to wear the suits to keep up with everyone."

Swimmers contend the surfaces of the suits help them slide faster through water, the tightness makes them sleeker, and the impermeable versions are buoyant and aid with flotation. FINA voted to ban all long-length suits next year, but more than 400 approved suits are at these world championships.

American Ariana Kukors, who finished third in the 200 individual medley at the U.S. championships, broke the night's third world record in the semifinal of the event. She obliterated Stephanie Rice's 2008 world mark of 2:08.45, touching the wall in 2:07.03.

Kukors, who wore the Jaked01 suit, got to compete in the event only because Towson's Elizabeth Pelton dropped out to focus on the three backstroke events (the 50, 100 and 200). "I'm taking her out to dinner sometime," Kukors said about Pelton. "I definitely owe her big."

Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, who wore an Arena X-Glide, started off the record-smashing by beating by .17 of a second Inge de Bruijn's nine-year-old mark in the 100 butterfly, finishing in 56.44. Italy's Frederica Pellegrini toppled her own mark in the 400 freestyle, finishing in 3:59.15. She wore a Jaked01. Finally, Germany's Britta Steffen lowered her own world record in the 100 freestyle on the opening leg (52.22) of the 4x100 relay, and the Netherlands 4x100 free relay team claimed the overall world record with its first-place finish in 3:31.72.

"Swimming's going to actually become swimming again" when the suit ban goes into effect, Michael Phelps said. "It's not going to be an issue [of] . . . who's wearing what?"

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