Vancouver's Annamay Pierse joined the high-speed assault on swimming's record book yesterday. She figured it was bound to happen once she put it all together - a great effort coupled with a sleek suit and some fast food.
"The 100 [metre breaststroke held earlier this week]didn't go well," Pierse said after posting a world-record time in the semi-finals of the 200 breaststroke. "I'm not going to lie to you. I went and had a few McDonalds [meals] I'd lost a little too much weight."
Recommitted, refuelled and decked out in a new Jaked suit, Pierse became the first Canadian to add to the action that has transformed the 2009 world aquatics championships in Rome into human speedboat racing. Her time of 2 minutes 20.12 seconds easily bettered American Rebecca Soni, the winner of the 100 breast, to set up yet another meeting between the two in tonight's 200 final.
Pierse was so controlled and efficient in the water at the Foro Italico that she produced the 24th world record of the meet. Fittingly, by the time she had showered and changed, five more records had fallen, bettering the 25 set during last summer's Beijing Olympics.
With three days of competition remaining in Rome, the 2009 worlds could go down as the fastest swim meet ever held.
"I predicted a world record would be set in every event because of the technology," said University of Toronto swim coach Byron MacDonald. "And I'll be pretty close to spot on. It's because of the suits."
It's because of a tsunami of world records that the suits being used in Rome are about to be banned some time in 2010.
The new suits are made of polyurethane; some officials have said they're better than skin.
MacDonald, a CBC commentator for swimming at the 2008 Olympics, explained how things have changed so drastically in a year, from fast to stunningly fast to unfair.
"The Speedo LZR [introduced prior to Beijing]was so hot off the press no one could redo it," MacDonald said. "Everyone wore the LZR and no one beat anyone because of the suit. The problem this summer is that there are people who are loyal to their suit-makers, like Speedo, and those suits are made with only 50-per-cent polyurethane. They're not as fast as suits made of 100 per cent polyurethane. Now the playing field isn't level and we're seeing that."
FINA, the sport's organizing body, was warned the 2009 worlds were about to tear the sport apart. Australian national head coach Alan Thompson said in advance: "I am all for technology, but this has just gone too far and is giving athletes an unfair advantage."
Other coaches and athletes voiced their disapproval. American Janet Evans, a former world record holder in three events, told The Associated Press she goes on-line every morning to follow the world championships and actually laughs at the results.
"It's so out of control," she said. "We need to kind of start over again."
Pierre Lafontaine, chief executive officer of Swimming Canada, added his voice to the debate early at the worlds but insisted the attention at poolside has turned to the results and racing.
"There are always two realities," Lafontaine said. "There's the reality in the arena. I've never seen such passion with the Italians [hosting and attending the meet] What you see in the arena are unbelievable races. On the outside there is a lot of discussion of the suits. We hear different countries complimenting other countries [for their performances]"
To that point, other swimmers on the Canadian team said they were inspired by Pierse, who has been on a steady rise, placing sixth in the 200 breast at the Olympics before setting a world short-course record in the same event just 4½ months ago.
"I saw Annamay's world record from the warm-up pool," said Julia Wilkinson, who competed on the women's 4 x 200 freestyle relay squad. "I'd never seen a Canadian break the word record. We're all really competitive and you realize, 'If she can do it, I want to do it, too.' "
Pierse, a disappointing fifth in the 100 breast, has a habit of losing weight at major meets. Lafontaine said the coaches monitor their athletes' weight on a daily basis, but noted: "Sometimes they get nervous and they don't eat enough or drink, and [Pierse]is one of them."
Brent Hayden of Vancouver competed in the men's 100 freestyle yesterday hoping to defend the gold medal he earned at the 2007 worlds in Melbourne. Hayden placed fourth with a time of 47.27 seconds. His winning time two years ago, equalled by Italy's Filippo Magnini, was 48.43 seconds.
Brazil's Cesar Cileo Filho won yesterday's 100 in a blistering 46.91 seconds. It was, of course, a world record.
World records at the 2009 world swim championships, with three days of competition remaining.
World records at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
World records at the 2007 world swim championships in Melbourne.
World records at the 2005 world swim championships in Montreal.