Big guns set to boom

Aquatics: Phelps the cynosure again at world meet

Phelps is expected to again dominate headlines when the swimming competition of the 13th FINA World Swimming Championships begins in Rome on Sunday. He could face tough opposition, though.

Surprisingly, the 24-year-old Baltimore swimmer could be upstaged by swimsuits. Even though a rule change by FINA will make the polyurethane suits illegal, they are allowed to be used at these championships.

Heading into the Olympics last year, the Speedo LZR Racer was the swimsuit that everybody was talking about and the suit, which incorporated polyurethane panels, was credited with playing a major part in the flood of world records in the run-up to Beijing and the Olympics themselves. But its competitors developed swimsuits made entirely out of polyurethane and many of the swimmers here will be using those.

Swimsuits are, obviously, not the only reason why fans can expect plenty of world records at the championships. Another reason is the fact that the starting times at the Worlds have been moved back to the traditional times that sees the finals being swum in the evening, while the heats are held during the morning session.

There are, of course, also plenty of good swimmers around. Phelps will be one of them and although he has dropped the 200M and 400M individual medley from his programme in Rome, he could still end up with six gold medals.

In his absence, friend and teammate Ryan Lochte could well be the man to watch as he is favoured to win the medley events and could add a third gold medal in the 200M backstroke.

Lochte’s main rival in the backstroke event will be his teammate Aaron Peirsol who has been dominating the stroke since the 2000 Olympics. Also worth watching are the French male swimmers who could avenge their close defeat to the US at the Olympics in the 4x100M freestyle relay by taking gold this time around.

Asian hopes rest on South Korean 200M and 400M freestyle specialist Park Tae-Hwan and Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, who is hoping to repeat his breaststroke sweep from Beijing.

Park, who is also competing in the 1,500M, expects a tough fight on his hands. “At the last competition I was only a challenger, and no one took notice of me because I was a rookie. Now I have to beat not only the other strong competitors, but also shake off the challenge of the rookies.”

Tunisian Oussama Mellouli, whose silver medal in the 400M and the 800M from the last worlds in Melbourne two years ago were scrapped after he tested positive for amphetamine, is looking to bounce back in the 1,500M —where he won gold in Beijing.
Australian Stephanie Rice and Zimbabwean Kirsty Coventry are expected to be the women in with a chance of picking up the most medals, with local hero Frederica Pellegrini are expected to do well. Germany’s Britta Steffen, who won gold in the 50M and 100M freestyle at the Olympics last year, is hoping for a first ever World Championship gold medal.

Just how well the swimmers will do in temperatures which could reach 40 degrees, remains to be seen, but it seems more than likely that the 13th swimming World Championships will see a flood of world records and personal bests from many of the 2,556 competing athletes.

DPA

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