European short course Championships 2002

When is a bodysuit not a bodysuit? The question on many people’s lips as they watched an encouraging showing from the British team at the 2002 European Short Course Championships in Riesa, Germany. All the talk from the camp before the event had been about how the team would be racing tough, without resting or shaving and with no bodysuits. The cynical were no doubt unsurprised to see many of the team racing in knee length suits, rather than the more traditional trunks, but the level of achievement of the 14 strong team should not be underestimated as they surpassed the medal haul from 2001 with comparative ease.

The top performers from a British perspective were Sarah Price, Alison Sheppard and Steve Parry who came away with a title and two medals each. Parry got the whole show on the road on the first day, winning a silver medal in the 200 backstroke an event he admits to only swimming for fun – but his second visit to the podium was by far the more dramatic. Parry and defending champion James Hickman had qualified first and second for the 200m fly and each was clearly intent on beating the other as they left the remainder of the field over the middle 100m of the race. Coming off the final turn the seasoned observer would have expected Hickman’s superior underwater work to take its toll, but Parry held on doggedly and touched out his fast tiring rival to snatch gold, in a new championship record.

Price and Sheppard both had to wait until the final day of competition to race their favourite events, the 200m backstroke and 50m freestyle respectively. Earlier in the week, Price had looked a little off the pace despite winning bronze in the 100m backstroke, but the Barnet lady is made of stern stuff and was in no mood to relinquish her 200m title from last year. Starting strongly she led all the way, leaving the field for dead over the third quarter of the race to win by a clear margin from 100m champion Antje Buschschulte of Germany. Sheppard had looked much sharper over the course of the meet and following on from her silver and British record in the 100IM, she was never headed as she stormed to the 50m title in another new British record of 24.20s, over half a second clear of her nearest rival.

The British team once again picked yup the best newcomer award. Following on from Robin Francis’ win in this category last year, City of Cardiff’s David Davies picked up the award this year, having made quite a name for himself in the 1500m freestyle. The young Welshman carved another 12 seconds of his lifetime best and the Welsh record to claim a well deserved silver medal. He was the only swimmer who had anywhere near the pace to pursue the eventual winner, Russian Yuri Prilukov, and was clearly delighted with his achievement.

The rest of the British team did not disappoint either, with numerous personal best performances and final appearances to their credit.

Elsewhere, the championships were deemed a success, despite high profile absentees such as Therese Alshammer, Pieter van den Hoogendband and local hero Franziska van Alsmick. The stars of the competition were undoubtedly Hungarian Eva Risztov who dethroned Yana Klochkova in the 400m freestyle and also won the 800 free, with a European record and 200 fly, and Thomas Rupprath, who came away with golds in the 100 fly and 50 and 100m backstroke. The performance of the meet came from the German men’s 4x50m relay team who set the only world record of the weekend.