Sweden’s Therese Alshammar competes in the women’s 100m butterfly final during the FINA Swimming World Cup 2012 in Dubai, October 2, 2012. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

Courtesy of FINA.org

October 2, 2012 DUBAI – Post-Olympic holidays from swimming were a thing of the past tonight as the big names returned to the pool tonight for their first major competition since the Olympics in London almost eight weeks ago. The stellar line up in every race in the FINA/ARENA Swimming World Cup in Dubai put on a crowd pleasing display of world class swimming, the caliber of which has not been seen since Dubai hosted the World Championships (25m) in 2010.

As anticipated Olympic champions Cameron van der Burgh and Chad Le Clos thrilled the crowds with exciting racing and close fought victories. After qualifying fastest this morning in the 50m breaststroke, van der Burgh took the gold in his only swim of the night ahead of countryman Guilio Zorzi and Glenn Syders of New Zealand. Le Clos had a much tougher fight to overcome Japan’s Daiya Seto who had qualified ahead of him in the 200m butterfly. Seto led for much of the race, but with the crowd roaring, Le Clos managed to overtake in the last few metres to win by .73 of a second. Velimir Stjepanovic swimming for UAE Clubs came in third, much to the delight of the large home crowd.

Olympic champion Le Clos (RSA) delights the crowd

Le Clos was delighted to take the win, saying “I was lucky to get this one, Seto is swimming well and I really had to push hard, I’m tired now”. “I’m just glad I’ve kept my Dubai record going, that’s nine out of nine wins here now”.

Unfortunately Le Clos couldn’t make it ten out of ten wins in Dubai, being pipped in the 50m butterfly by Kenya’s Jason Dunford. Dunford was full of praise for Le Clos, and was pleased to touch out the quality field which also included South Africa’s Roland Schoeman and Olympic silver medalist Evgeny Korotyshkin.

“This was great to give me confidence ahead of the rest of the World Cup, I felt strong and powerful, I didn’t rush my stroke. It was nice to beat Chad, I used to be able to beat him all the time, but he beats me now so it’s good to get one back. He’s swimming so well. I am really enjoying the World Cup, I love racing with these guys”.

Le Clos was disappointed to lose but his friendship with Dunford softened the blow. He said: “It’s OK to lose to another African.” He added: “It’s awesome to come back to Dubai , I have fantastic support here. It’s important for youngsters to come here and be motivated. I was like that, I saw Michael Phelps when I was a youngster, and I wanted to beat him, and it motivated me”.

While Le Clos may have taken the gold in the 200m fly ahead of him, Seto didn’t miss out on gold altogether, taking out the 400m individual medley. He left Hungary’s Olympic bronze medalist Laszlo Cseh and China’s Huang Chaosheng to fight out the minor medals, with Cseh taking silver.

Australia’s Kenneth To was another dual gold medalist tonight, staging a surprise upset in the 100m freestyle. The diminutive To had qualified equal fifth in the morning heats but mowed down the opposition to take the gold in the final, then backed up with another win in the 100m individual medley, after qualifying fastest in the heats. “I was happy with that, the 100m individual medley is a very dynamic race and I am happy with that time. I love the short course format”.

World record holder Stanislav Donets of Russia triumphed over Ashley Delaney of Australia in the 100m backstroke while Kosuke Hagino of Japan was pushed hard by Robert Hurley of Australia in the 400m freestyle. Hurley was very pleased with his silver, setting a personal best time.

Marco Koch rounded out the men’s gold medalists with a win over Seto on the 200m breaststroke. Koch was pleased with the win but said “It was very hard, the standard here this year is so much higher, so it’s good to win one”.

Sweden’s sprint queen Alshammar off to a brilliant start

The big performer in the women’s ranks was Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who took out the 800m freestyle before backing up to take the 200m freestyle just two races later. She then went on to stamp her dominance on the meet with a win in the 200m Individual medley, before tiring to take third in the 200m backstroke won by Darya Zevina of Ukraine. Hosszu said: “I’m a bit tired now, it’s been a long day. The plan was to race a lot to get back into shape, hopefully I can do the same tomorrow”.

Perennial champion Therese Alshammar also performed brilliantly, taking gold in both the 100m butterfly and the 50m freestyle. Alshammar, who is recovering from a neck injury, was pleased to kick off her World Cup campaign with two wins. “I’m feeling better and my neck feels OK so it’s great to take the two wins here tonight.” In winning both races she triumphed over her nearest rivals in Inge Dekker of Netherlands and Britta Steffen of Germany.

Alshammar’s compatriot Jennie Johansson managed to hold off Japan’s Fumiko Kawanabe in the 100m breaststroke, while Australia’s Rachel Goh took gold in the 50m backstroke with a solid win over Japan’s Inada Noriko. After winning multiple World Cup medals in the 2011 series, Goh was pleased with her performance, saying: “It’s good to start the series with a good win, I will be contesting some of the other events so wanted to start well here”.

The evening finished with a first for Dubai and for the World Cup with the 4x50m mixed medley relay, where countries enter a team of two men and two women to swim a medley relay. This is the first time such a race has been swum at a World Cup and will be featured in each of the eight leg series this year. The event certainly entertained the large crowd as it was impossible to predict the winner. Germany triumphed in this inaugural race, followed by Hungary and the Ukraine. The German team praised the format, team member Britta Steffen saying:

“It’s a lot of fun, the lead changes so often and its good fun for the team. It is interesting to see what I can do under pressure, I love racing the men”.

This is the second time Dubai has held the first leg of the prestigious FINA/ARENA Swimming World Cup series, and organizers are delighted with both the standard and number of entries received. Over 190 swimmers representing 30 countries, including numerous world champions, world record holders and Olympic medalists, will compete again tomorrow on the last day of the competition at the Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex.

(Report by Sarah Marks)