ROME, July 27 — Two weeks ago, U.S. swimmer Aaron Peirsol set the world record in the 100-meter backstroke, and followed that by regaining the world mark in the 200 backstroke. The only question entering the swimming world championships in Rome seemed to be whether Peirsol would take his records even lower.
But a stunning mental error on Monday night cost Peirsol a shot even to defend his world title in the 100 backstroke. Peirsol said he lost track of where he was in his semifinal heat at the Foro Italico, a miscalculation that resulted in his ninth-place finish overall with a time of 53.22.
It was 0.10 of a second short of the time he needed to advance to the event’s final.
“That’s just a huge miscalculation,” Peirsol said. “I thought I was in a much better place in the race than I was.”
One of Peirsol’s training mates in Austin, Texas, freestyler David Walters, called Peirsol’s failure to advance “devastating.”
But, Walters added: “he’s been making the Olympics since he was 15. You gotta give him a bad heat now and then.”
Pelton Advances, Then Stalls
In her first race Monday morning, Towson’s Elizabeth Pelton, 15, swam a personal best in the 100 backstroke to advance to the evening’s semifinals, but Pelton could go no farther.
Pelton, who posted a time of 1:00.44 in the morning, managed just a 1:00.51 in her semifinal heat. The time was the 13th-best in the semifinal round but Pelton—who has two more events to swim here (the 50 and 200 backstroke)—wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
“I wasn’t really nervous,” she said. “I felt the same as this morning, but I came back a little slower … Just to make the semis was fine with me.”
Three days ago, Ariana Kukors’s personal best in the 200 individual medley stood at 2:10.40 seconds. She finished third in the event at the U.S. swimming championships two weeks ago, but earned the chance to swim the event here because Pelton—who won the second qualifying spot—relinquished it to concentrate on the backstroke events.
Kukors certainly made the most of the chance.
On Sunday she set the world record in the event.
On Monday, she lowered it, and won her first world title in the process with her finish in 2:06.15 seconds — a drop of more than four seconds in two days.
Of the five world records set Monday (Australia’s Brenton Rickard in the 100 breaststroke in 58.58; Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom, 56.06 in the 100 butterfly; American Rebecca Soni’s 1:04.84 in the 100 breast; and Anastasia Zueva’s 58.48 inn the 100 backstroke), Kukors might have been the most stunning.
“I’m so happy,” Kukors said. “I just didn’t stop believing…. It’s been a whirlwind these last few days.”
Rogan Rips FINA
Austria’s Markus Rogan, who attended West Potomac Mount Vernon High, is one of the few swimmers at these championships arguing that banning long-length suits next year, which the world governing body (FINA) decided to do last week, is a really bad idea.
“FINA is really proving its incompetence on a dramatic and fantastic level,” Rogan said. “I’m not criticizing the suits, I’m criticizing FINA … We’re the most popular boring sport in the world. We only survive on records.”