Around the Deck at the FINA World Champs, Shanghai, China, July, 2011


Maybe never again, would we see such a magnificent venue. In a city with 27 MILLION people, the city itself paid over 330 Million US dollars to construct what is perhaps the finest aquatic complex in the world. Dale Neuburger, FINA VP for the America’s, rated the main swimming pool and stadium as perhaps very close to a great NBA stadium albeit perhaps with a number of fewer luxury boxes. (This is Communist China, after all….) The Venue was marvelous, the conduct of the competition, largely due to the fine work of Carol Zaleski and her technical committee, was superb and the “show aspects” were wonderous and enriching. Finalists were paraded out individually with spotlights and all sorts of color and pomp. It was hard not be impressed. Certainly the title of best show, and best organization were reasonable. FINA gets a big round of applause for this one.

The Open Water 25 contest was not quite so wonderful. Once again, the water was TOO HOT for 5 plus hours of hard work…..athletes in the 5 and 10 K events were hot but not unbearable. The 25 K however, saw a dozen athletes stay out of the competition for fear of physical problems, including 2 former World Champions and the temperature reached 31 C at some points during the race. The only remaining USA entrant in the 25 was pulled from the race by Coach Jack Roach before she hurt herself. Hopefully, more definitive times are ahead as FINA has commissioned a study from a New Zealand University to determine some absolute limits on cold AND warm temps in which to race and compete and we expect those to be provided to the Bureau and the Federations in a matter of months. Those regulations will definitively decide at what temperatures races shall and shall not take place. Slowly the quality of safety rules improve in FINA after the tragic death in 2010 of the USA’s Fran Crippen, much remembered and much thought about and discussed in Shanghai.

On the pool deck, the main topic of swimming prior to the start of the meet was the decision by the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to allow Cesar Cielo of Brazil to go penalty free after a positive doping test for a masking agent. Cielo claimed contamination of a supplement and walked away with a warning. Most competitors on deck, speaking not with personal animus, but simply speaking in defense of the concept of strict liability, were disgruntled with the decision and said so loudly in the press. FINA, which had brought the case to suspend Cielo for 3 months, did the right thing, but was not supported by CAS. At this writing, the specific explanations from CAS on WHY and under what circumstances Cielo was excused, have not been forthcoming, though it is said they will be available in 30 days. That will surely re-ignite a thunderstorm. Meanwhile, Cielo is free to compete and prepare for the London Olympics. Many skeptics will surely be interested in results of his future tests as well as those of his fellow Brazilian teammates, who, in the past 18 months, have had more positive tests than the Chinese at their very worst. Many are skeptical of the Brazilian seriousness about anti-doping. Hosting the Olympic Games will indeed bring both more scrutiny and more crazed desire to success to your athletes.

Other interesting tidbits: From Russian Coach Gennadi Touretski, coaching Ian Thorpe in Switzerland, far from the adoring crowds of home Australians…”do you know how good a butterflier this man is? He’s the best in the world, ever!” Don’t know if Mr. Phelps or Coach Bob heard that one…..
Michael Phelps gave an opening date interview that experienced reporters like Alan Abramson, said was the finest they have ever heard from, honest, direct, introspective. Goals drive the man, no news there. Honest self-evaluation of too many days on the golf tee and not enough in the water have given way to enthusiasm and energy for one last great push to London and final superb performances there.

Speaking of Abramson, after the men’s 400 Free Relay won the bronze medal in the relay, a bit of a come down for the USA, Alan noted in his column that many other American Sportsmen could take a lesson from the USA foursome, who quickly pointed the finger at themselves as the reason for the “failure” and vowed to work harder to change the result in London. The directness of our lads was in stark contrast to the many privileged pro athletes who, faced with defeat, spend a lot of time and energy seeking to put the blame anywhere but where it belongs. Good on the boys in the Red, White and Blue. Every great comeback has to begin with a “defeat.”

Finally, in the dryside of our sport, FINA held a special Congress in Shanghai to provide a much-needed update to the Rules that govern the organization, and while not going perhaps as far as many of us might like in the western democracies; went a long way to improving the old organization.

Next FINA Congress is due in 2013, with an election of a new President and Bureau a key part of the agenda for that meeting. President Julio Maglione made a point to provide all Federations with the opportunity in a democratic way, to contribute ideas to the dialogue of the year leading to this Special Congress. Congrats to him for that. The USA’s proposals won some and lost some, but we did get our say, and the overwhelming majority of nations left Shanghai happy with the changes.

Next major stop, London. Hold on tight. Go USA!

MISSY FRANKLIN ON 1: 55 in the leadoff of the 800 free Relay! Marvelous swim! Congrats to Missy and HER COACH, TODD SCHMITZ on the WORLD CLINIC PROGRAM AS A SPEAKER ON THURSDAY, 9/8 in San Diego. Gotta book a bigger room for that one now!

Congrats Todd, Congrats MISSY!

– John Leonard
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