The 14th World Championships in Shanghai finished with a flourish and left those watching desperate for more. The eight days of competition culminated in some phenomenal swimming and some even better racing, leaving no doubt that the competition in London has the potential to be something extraordinary.
For British fans there was enough to smile about to be confident of home nation representation on the medal podiums next year. Becky Adlington and Kerrie-Anne Payne both took world titles in Olympic events and the mental fortitude shown by Adlington in particular gives great confidence she can repeat the trick in 12 months time. Equally Hannah Miley and Ellen Gandy can be pleased with their silver medals and must be considered serious Olympic contenders. For Miley that’s not a new position to be in, but Gandy has catapulted herself into the public consciousness following a gutsy swim over 200m butterfly that almost resulted in gold.
Beyond the medal winners there were also encouraging signs for Fran Halsall and James Goddard, both achieving fourth placed finishes, and Michael Jamieson, 5th in the 200m breaststroke, all three being within striking distance of the podium. Halsall in particular will be expecting to convert her Shanghai performance into hardware in 12 months time. Add to these swimmers Gemma Spofforth and Lizzie Simmonds, both below par in China after being struck down with illness, and the picture looks generally positive for Britain.
But the major talking point for London that rose in the Far East is the coming rematch between Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps. Lochte was the swimmer of the meet, claiming five gold medals and setting the first long course world record since 2009. That mark came in the 200 individual medley and saw Lochte pip Phelps by just 0.16s to break his own suit-powered record. Phelps himself set a best time despite being clearly short of his best form after, by his own admission, a year of less than 100% commitment to the pool. Despite that dip from his usual excellence, Phelps was still good enough to win three gold medals, including an unprecedented third straight double over 100m and 200m butterfly. All evidence that he is far from a spent force, and that he can return stronger next year.
An extra frisson is added to the rematch with the knowledge that London will almost certainly be the last time that Phelps is seen in international competition. He confirmed on Twitter shortly after the last medal ceremony in Shanghai that we had seen the last of him at a World Championships, the natural implication being that he will hang up his goggles in 2012. Phelps has been a phenomenon over the last decade, with 26 world titles to his name, and will be looking to elevate his performance such that he can go out at the top of his sport.
The Australian team will also be looking to bounce back next year, following a meet that was a disappointment when measured against their own high standards. The Dolphins took only two gold medals – the same number that Britain pocketed in the pool, although both were in Olympic events and the overall Australian haul was well in excess of Britain’s – and posted their worst performance since the Perth world championships of 1991. Particularly surprising was the fact that their women, so strong in recent seasons, failed to take a single title. However, just as Britain will be looking at how to turn fourth and fifth places into medals, Australia will be looking at nine silver meals won and plotting how to convert those to gold next year. They will also be boosted by a number of comebacks, Ian Thorpe chief amongst them, and they will undoubtedly be a stronger team for his inclusion.
What they have now is the new rising star of men’s swimming in James Magnussen, who won the 100m freestyle and was a major part in gold and silver medals for the men’s relays. Magnussen, 20, set the two fastest 100m times ever seen without a bodysuit and is now a hot favourite for the blue riband event in London next year. Particularly impressive is the confidence he has in his own ability – so often the atmosphere of a world final can get to young swimmers, but in the 100m Magnussen was willing to let the fast men go in the early stages, safe in the knowledge he could reel them in over the latter stages, which he duly did.
An amazing new talent was also unveiled by the USA in the statuesque form of Missy Franklin. The 6’1” tall 16-year-old came from relative obscurity to mark herself as one to watch for next year with a string of world beating performances. She set an American record and a textile world best time leading off the 4x200m freestyle relay and won individual gold in the 200m backstroke, adding gold in the medley relay and bronze over 50m backstroke to her haul. Who knows what she might have achieved with a full programme, her entries curtailed by an American selection policy that picked their team over a year ago, and many of her team-mates will now feel less secure of their places in London.
Finally, the biggest draw for the home crowd in Shanghai also showed he’ll be one of the big tickets for 2012. Sun Yang broke the oldest men’s world record, and the only one to survive the supersuit era, as he finally removed the great Grant Hackett’s 1500m mark from the books. More amazing, though, was the way he did it; with 200m to go he was three seconds behind the required pace, but finished like a scalded cat to break the record by 0.42s.
Sun’s astonishing last 50m was completed in just 25.94 seconds – over a second faster than 200m winner Lochte managed on his last length, but with 29 laps of the 50m pool already completed. The potential of where he might take the record next is dazzling, with a swim under 14:30 distinctly possible. Hopefully for British fans lucky enough to have secured swimming finals tickets for 4th August 2012, that next advance will be in Olympic waters.