Sunday, 2 February 2014

A swimmer-pioneer: Ari-Pekka Liukkonen first openly gay Finnish athlete


Finnish sprint ace Ari-Pekka Liukkonen has created some waves in his native country as he's come out as gay. This makes the 24 year old the first ever active national level athlete, in any sport, to announce their homosexuality.

It shouldn't be news in 2014, but that amazing fact stresses the point that it still has to be. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to break ground in a country obviously still stuck in the 20th century on these matters.

Liukkonen came public on the matter in an interview with finnish national broadcaster YLE, stating that he feels obliged to highlight the matter leading into the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. 

The Russian "anti-gay"-legislation has been subject to a great deal of debacle leading up to the Games, and the Finnish swimmer wanted to have his say on the matter. He hopes to start a debate in his home country about gay rights leading up to the Games.
"It’s sad that the legislation in Russia restricts the human rights of young people and others. Homosexuals have the same rights as people with brown or blue eyes, as people that are right- or left handed," said the Olympic Swimmer speaking on the Urheiluviikonloppu-show.
The 24 year old tells a story about denial and oppressed feelings when he first started to realize he was gay. He thought it was just a phase.

During high school he started to comprehend that it was not something that would pass. 
"Acceptance was hard, but not necessarily horribly hard either. It's been a long process for me," says Liukkonen.
He told his sister first, a couple of years ago. A month ago he told his parents, who according to the 24 year old has been supportive after receiving the news.
"I wanted to tell my parents before I went public. They've shown great support," he says. 
"Finally I can be myself. But I want to stress that I'll still be the same Ari-Pekka that is going to swim the 50 meters freestyle and one day beat the World Record. I want to win the Olympics in a World Record-time."
Ari-Pekka Liukkonen is the Finnish national record holder with a 22,22 personal best. He came fourth at the European Long Course Championships in 2012 with that time.

He participated at the London Olympic Games and won a bronze medal with the Finnish relay team in the 4x50 meters mixed freestyle at the 2012 European Short Course Championships.

Today's revelations might be his biggest achievement yet though.


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Conor "American Psycho" Dwyer

There can never be enough nicknames in the world of swimming, so I offer up Conor "American Psycho" Dwyer.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - The Top 10


The third annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year list is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but priority is given to achievements in Barcelona at the World Championships. World records and textile best times also carry a lot of weight. Other outstanding achievements away from Barcelona were acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better a World Championship medal. Also worth noting, as this is a list of the Top 50 individuals, relay medals did not come into play, however race-changing relay contributions were valued highly.

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 50 to 41
Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 40 to 31
Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 30 to 21
Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 20 to 11

This is it. The final installment takes us from number 10 to this year's number 1 swimmer of 2013.


10. Chad le Clos - 2013 Highlight: Emerged as the undisputed best male fly swimmer in the world. Two decisive victories in the 100 and 200 fly gave the South African his first world titles. Le Clos then backed up his Barcelona performance by twice lowering the short course world record in the 200 fly and taking home $305,000 in prize money as the Top Male on the World Cup tour.



9. Rikke Moller Pedersen - 2013 Highlight: Her superb world record of 2:19.11 in the 200 breast semi-final in Barcelona. Although Yulia Efimova was able to get past the Dane in the final of the event, Moller Pedersen's world record still stands. The 200 breaststroke event has turned on its head since Rebecca Soni's domination at London 2012 with Pedersen leading the revolution.



8. Mireia Belmonte - 2013 Highlight: Belmonte is the highest ranked non-world champion on this year's list. She makes it this high thanks to the overall strength of her 2013. She set three short course world records, picked up two silvers (200 fly, 400 IM) and a bronze (200 IM) in Barcelona and ended the year with 6 Top 20 ranked long course times, which was only bettered by her Hungarian rival who appears a little higher up this list.



7. Cate Campbell - 2013 Highlight: Leading off the Australian 4x100 freestyle relay in a new textile best time of 52.33 on day one at worlds before following that up with gold in the 100 free individual event in 52.34 and silver in the 50 free in 24.14. Campbell's 52.09 relay split in the medley relay also turned a bronze into a silver for Australia. Watch out in 2014, Britta Steffen's world record of 52.07 which once seemed light years away from the current crop of sprinters, suddenly seems within reach for the Australian freestyler.



6. Sun Yang - 2013 Highlight: The Chinese distance star is our top ranked male for 2013. It shows how much further ahead of the rest of the world he is when he can have an off-year by his high time standards and still win the 400, 800 and 1500 free world titles comfortably. His most impressive swim in Barcelona was arguably his 1:43.16 split in the 4x200 free relay which was 1.8 seconds faster than any other split and took China from 5th up to 3rd. Frustratingly it also showed us what kind of competition he could have given Yannick Agnel in the 200 individual event.



5. Missy Franklin - 2013 Highlight: There were no world records or textile best times for Franklin in 2013, but she secured three world titles (200 free, 100 back, 200 back) and had two stand-out relay performances in the 4x100 medley (58.39 backstroke split) and 4x200 freestyle (1:54.27 final leg, moving USA from 2nd to 1st in the process). Having a 6-time gold medalist at number 5 goes to show just how strong a year 2013 was for women in the pool.



4. Katinka Hosszu - 2013 Highlight: The Iron Lady of swimming was able to combine her incredibly tough schedule of racing with success on the biggest stage with victories at the World Championships in the 200 and 400 IM, as well as bronze in the 200 fly. While her performances in Barcelona were impressive, Hosszu then put together a magnificent short course season setting an incredible 6 new world records as well picking up the Top Female award (and $365,500 in prize money) from the world cup tour.



3. Yuliya Efimova - 2013 Highlight: The Russian breaststroke ace proved that she saves her best for the races that matter the most. Efimova went into the 50 and 200 breaststroke finals in Barcelona as the underdog to a world record setter in the semi-final. On both occasions she got to the wall first in times that shook the new world records, but ultimately didn't topple them. She also finished the year in great form setting two short course world records to go alongside the 50 breast world record she set in the Barcelona heats (that ultimately lasted less than a day).



2. Ruta Meilutyte - 2013 Highlight: It was incredibly difficult to split Efimova and Meilutyte and ultimately it came down to how much long course world records were valued. Meilutyte finished the year with world record times of 29.48 and 1:04.35 in the 50 and 100 breaststroke, gold in the 100 breast, silver in the 50 breast in Barcelona as well as a new short course mark of 1:02.36 in the 100 breast. In Meilutyte's young career she has shown a tendency to have her best swims in semi-finals which is something she will need to work on when she next locks horns with Efimova, but remains a well deserving number 2 in this list. She also possesses one of the best starts in swimming.



1. Katie Ledecky - 2013 Highlight: The runaway winner in this year's list goes to the young American distance phenomenon. Ledecky put on a freestyle display for the ages in Barcelona breaking the 800 and 1500 freestyle world records en route to golds in both events. She also broke the iconic 4 minute barrier to win the 400 freestyle title. Lotte Friis put up a brave fight in both the 800 and 1500 races, but Ledecky couldn't be stopped. The truly terrifying part for her competitors is that you get the impression that she has only just scratched the surface of her potential and is still just 16 years old. They will be lining up against her for the foreseeable future. Ledecky's 1:56.32 opening relay leg in the 4x200 free points to a Sun Yang-esque freestyle range and should she decide to shift her focus to the shorter distance as she gets older, who knows how much lower she can take her best time to.

Final tally for Ledecky in 2013: 2 LC world records, 3 individual world titles, 4 Top 10 ranked times. Total distance freestyle domination.


The Top 50

50. Chase Kalisz
49. Jimmy Feigen
48. Melani Costa
47. Laszlo Cseh
46. Belinda Hocking
45. Pawel Korzeniowski
44. Radoslaw Kawecki
43. Emily Seebohm
42. Connor Dwyer
41. Fabien Gilot
40. Jessica Hardy
39. Aya Terakawa
38. Federica Pellegrini
37. Thiago Pereira
36. Ryan Cochrane
35. Zhao Jing
34. Dana Vollmer
33. Vladimir Morozov
32. Camille Lacourt
31. Nathan Adrian
30. Danila Izotov
29. Yannick Agnel
28. Fu Yuanhui
27. Lauren Boyle
26. Liu Zige
25. James Magnussen
24. Daiya Seto
23. Jeanette Ottesen
22. Alicia Coutts
21. Kosuke Hagino
20. Matt Grevers
19. Daniel Gyurta
18. Lotte Friis
17. Sarah Sjostrom
16. Cameron van der Burgh
15. Christian Sprenger
14. Jeremy Stravius
13. Cesar Cielo
12. Ranomi Kromowidjojo
11. Ryan Lochte
10. Chad le Clos
9. Rikke Moller Pedersen
8. Mireia Belmonte
7. Cate Campbell
6. Sun Yang
5. Missy Franklin
4. Katinka Hosszu
3. Yuliya Efimova
2. Ruta Meilutyte
1. Katie Ledecky

Monday, 6 January 2014

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 20 to 11


The third annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year list is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but priority is given to achievements in Barcelona at the World Championships. World records and textile best times also carry a lot of weight. Other outstanding achievements away from Barcelona were acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better a World Championship medal. Also worth noting, as this is a list of the Top 50 individuals, relay medals did not come into play, however race-changing relay contributions were valued highly.

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 50 to 41
Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 40 to 31
Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 30 to 21


20. Matt Grevers - 2013 Highlight: Winning the 100 backstroke in Barcelona as the only man sub-53 seconds. Grevers backed up his Olympic gold with his first individual world title. He also led-off the ill-fated medley relay team in 53.02. Although his times were down on 2012, he still showed that he is the man to beat when it comes to the 100m backstroke.



19. Daniel Gyurta - 2013 Highlight: Three-peating as world 200 breaststroke champion in 2:07.23, the second fastest time of all-time. Nobody other than Gyurta has stood at the top of the men's 200 breast podium at a world championships since 2007. The Hungarian also shook the short course world record to its core with his 2:00.72 effort at European SC, just 0.05 shy of his own 2009 mark. Very few other swimmers had as much dominance in one event as Gyurta did in 2013.


18. Lotte Friis - 2013 Highlight: Crushing the previous 1500 freestyle world record with her time of 15:38.88. Unfortunately for Friis, Katie Ledecky crushed it by a little more leaving the Dane to settle for silver in the race of the year. Friis bravely took on Ledecky in both the 800 and 1500 free leading both races until the latter parts. If there was a prize for gutsiest racer of the year, Friis would be my pick.


17. Sarah Sjostrom - 2013 Highlight: Getting back on the top of the 100 butterfly world podium, 4 years after her breakthrough in Rome. Sjostrom's victory in 56.53 was exceptional and the showdown between Sjostrom and Vollmer when they next meet will be electric. The Swede also shone in the 100 free final with silver in 52.89 as well as finishing the year with Top 10 ranked swims in 5 separate events.


16. Cameron van der Burgh - 2013 Highlight: Setting a new textile best time in the 50 breaststroke in a time of 26.77, just 0.1 seconds off his own world record. Although Van der Burgh missed out on the 100 breast world title, his speed was better than ever in 2013. Fortunately we should get to see a tapered rematch with the next swimmer on our list in 2014.


15. Christian Sprenger - 2013 Highlight: An excellent year for the Australian breaststroker winning gold in the 100 breaststroke in a time of 58.79, bettering last year's silver in London. He also finished just 0.01 behind van der Burgh's new textile best time in the 50 breaststroke final as well as an excellent 58.47 medley relay split to take the Australian's from 4th to 1st.


14. Jeremy Stravius - 2013 Highlight: Stravius is our highest ranked male not to win an individual gold medal. He makes it to such a lofty rank due to two excellent relay contributions. Taking over in 4th position after 300m in the 4x100 free relay, his 47.59 final leg took the Frenchman past Jimmy Feigen, Danila Izotov and James Roberts to give victory to the French quartet. He also put in a sterling effort in the victorious medley relay with his split of 51.33, the fastest of the field, from a backstroke specialist. Stravius ended the year with 6 Top 20 ranked LC swims, showing off his tremendous versatility


13. Cesar Cielo - 2013 Highlight: Cielo stepped up to the blocks in two events and left with two golds and a textile best time in the 50 free of 21.32. His 50 free final was another example of a big-time performance from the Brazilian in a major final. In a final that included all the big hitters, he won by a significant gap of 0.15 seconds. After skipping the event in Barcelona, the swimming world now awaits to see what type of form Cielo comes back to in the 100 freestyle.


12. Ranomi Kromowidjojo - 2013 Highlight: Difficult to pick a highlight between the 50 free world title and her new short course world record of 23.24 in the 50 free on home soil. Kromowidjojo did lose out to Cate Campbell and Sarah Sjostrom in the 100 free final but proved that when it comes to the shorter distance she still reigns supreme.


11. Ryan Lochte - 2013 Highlight: In a year that saw Lochte make moves to becoming more of a mainstream star which ended early with a freak accident, he was still able to pick up two individual golds in Barcelona. His victories in the 200 backstroke and 200 IM were won by some margin and he ended the year with Top 10 times in 5 different events. His 1:44.98 relay split was solid in the 4x200 free relay, but was overshadowed by Sun Yang's 1:43.16. Lochte was just announced as the FINA Male Swimmer of the Year, I have him as the No.3 ranked Male in 2013.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 30 to 21



The third annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year list is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but priority is given to achievements in Barcelona at the World Championships. World records and textile best times also carry a lot of weight. Other outstanding achievements away from Barcelona were acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better a World Championship medal. Also worth noting, as this is a list of the Top 50 individuals, relay medals did not come into play, however race-changing relay contributions were valued highly.

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 50 to 41


30. Danila Izotov - 2013 Highlight: Some might argue it was his bronze medal winning 200 free individual effort, but Izotov makes the list this high for leading off the Russian 4x200 free team in 1:45.14, faster than his 200 free final time and ahead of both Yannick Agnel and Conor Dwyer, the two men who beat him in the individual final.


29. Yannick Agnel - 2013 Highlight: Last year's No.1 slips down the list despite his victory in the 200 freestyle in Barcelona. His win in 1:44.20 was emphatic, but he wasn't close to his best in two other relay appearances at Worlds. French victory overshadowed the fact that Agnel could only muster a 48.76 lead-off which put the French nearly a second down on the rest of the field. Watch out for Les Bleus when Agnel is back to his electrifying best.


28. Fu Yuanhui - 2013 Highlight: The Chinese backstroke emerging star makes the list for her new textile best time of 27.22 in the 50 backstroke. She took silver in Barcelona in 27.39, as well as 5th in the 100 backstroke. Look for the 17 year old to push on in 2014 at the Asian Games.


27. Lauren Boyle - 2013 Highlight: After winning gold at World SC in 2012, the Kiwi took the next step in a long course pool with a trio of bronze medals in Barcelona. By taking third in the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyles she became the first New Zealand swimmer to win three world medals since Danyon Loader in 1994. Not a bad achievement given that the entire country has only won 8 world medals in total.


26. Liu Zige - 2013 Highlight: The 2008 Olympic champion won her first world title in the 200 butterfly with a time of 2:04.59. She led at 100m before being caught by Mireia Belmonte at 150m, but unlike previous years where her pacing let her down, she found enough down the final length to get past the Spaniard.


25. James Magnussen - 2013 Highlight: Magnussen put a tumultuous 2012 behind him by retaining his 100m freestyle world title in 47.71. He had been 47.53 earlier in the year which topped the year-end rankings. His relay performances in Barcelona were solid, but not spectacular and Australia will need more from him if they want to get back on the top of the podium.


24. Daiya Seto - 2013 Highlight: Winning the 400 IM title in Barcelona with his 4:08.69 effort. In the process he beat the pre-race favourite, Kosuke Hagino who blew up on the final 50m. Seto is now the reigning world champion both short course and long course at 19 years of age.


23. Jeanette Ottesen - 2013 Highlight: The second textile best time setter ranked in the twenties, this time in the 50 butterfly. The Dane's 25.24 victory at Worlds was just 0.17 shy of the 2009 world record and gave her a victory margin of 0.18 seconds, the most amongst the 50s at Barcelona. She also finished fourth in the 100 fly and 5th in the 50 free.


22. Alicia Coutts - 2013 Highlight: Coutts won two individual silvers in the 100 fly and 200 IM as well as three further relay silvers in Barcelona..She ranked in the world top 20 in 6 events and proved once again how effective she can be during the major championships. 4 years ago she had her international breakthrough at Commonwealths and Pan Pacs and will be a major force at both again this year.


21. Kosuke Hagino - 2013 Highlight: Showing great versatility to win silvers in both the 200 IM and 400 free at Worlds. Although he wasn't able to finish the job after leading at 350m of the 400 IM, he did finish the year at the top of the world ranks with 4:07.61. He ranked in the world top 10 in 6 events, the 100, 200 back, 200, 400 free and 200, 400 IM making the final in all events at Barcelona. The rising star of Japanese swimming is primed for a big 2014.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 40 to 31


The third annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year list is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but priority is given to achievements in Barcelona at the World Championships. World records and textile best times also carry a lot of weight. Other outstanding achievements away from Barcelona were acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better a World Championship medal. Also worth noting, as this is a list of the Top 50 individuals, relay medals did not come into play, however race-changing relay contributions were valued highly.

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 50 to 41



40. Jessica Hardy - 2013 Highlight: A tremendous return to form in the breaststroke for Hardy culminated in double bronze in the 50 and 100 in Barcelona. In a bumper year of great women's breaststroke performances, Hardy held her own.



39. Aya Terakawa - 2013 Highlight: The queen of consistency once again delivered with bronze in the 50 and 100 backstroke in Barcelona and an impressive 58.70 opening medley relay split. A fitting end to a great career.



38. Federica Pellegrini - 2013 Highlight: Just running out of pool in the 200 freestyle final to take silver in 1:55.14 behind Missy Franklin. Her 29.07 final split was the quickest of the entire field by some distance. The next 200 free showdown between Franklin, Pellegrini and a rejuvenated pair of Schmitt and Muffat will be must-watch stuff.



37. Thiago Pereira - 2013 Highlight: Winning his first two World Championship medals with bronze in the 200 and 400 medley. He missed out on silver in the 200, and a few places higher on this list, by just 0.01 seconds.



36. Ryan Cochrane - 2013 Highlight: Leading Sun Yang at the 1400m mark of the 1500 freestyle final in Barcelona before settling for silver in 14:42.38. Cochrane also picked up a bronze in the 800 free final and
missed out on bronze in the 400 freestyle final by 0.17 seconds.


35. Zhao Jing - 2013 Highlight: The first world champion from Barcelona on the list took the 50 backstroke in 27.29. She finished 0.10 seconds clear of compatriot Fu Yuanhui in a Chinese dominated event. The 100 back world champion from Shanghai in 59.05 disappointed over the longer distance in 2013 with a strongest effort of 1:00.28.


34. Dana Vollmer - 2013 Highlight: Vollmer had a down year after her stunning 2012. Despite this the American was still able to win bronze in the 100 butterfly in 57.24. Vollmer's place on the list though is down to her medley relay split of 56.31 which was comfortably the fastest of the field and put the USA in complete control of the race.


33. Vladimir Morozov - 2013 Highlight: Winning world silver in the 50 freestyle in 21.47. Morozov split a jaw dropping 21.98 in the first 50m of the 100 free final, but paid for his exertions on the way home finishing in 5th. His disappointed of missing out on a medal in the 100 will have been tempered by his stellar final year at NCAAs, dominance at the World University Games and prize money from the World Cup tour totalling $183k.


32. Camille Lacourt - 2013 Highlight: The second world champion from Barcelona on the list took the 50 backstroke final in 24.42. He also led-off the 4 x 100 medley relay in 53.23,  faster than his individual final for the gold winning French team (albeit thanks to a USA DQ).


31. Nathan Adrian - 2013 Highlight: From an individual standpoint the Olympic 100 free champion didn't have the best 2013. He took bronze in the 100 free in 47.84 and fourth in the 50 free final. What won't be so obvious at first glance was Adrian's contributions for the USA relay teams. He touched the wall first when leading off the USA 4x100 free relay ahead of James Magnussen, although the team had to settle for silver, but it was his 46.69 relay split from the DQ'd USA medley relay that was the most special. The split was the fastest ever in textile, beating Pieter van den Hoogenband's 46.70 from 2003 and Yannick Agnel's 46.74 in London.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top 50 Swimmers of 2013 - 50 to 41


The third annual Speed Endurance Top 50 Swimmers of the Year list is upon us. There is no set-in-stone criteria, but priority is given to achievements in Barcelona at the World Championships. World records and textile best times also carry a lot of weight. Other outstanding achievements away from Barcelona were acknowledged, but it took an extraordinary feat to better a World Championship medal. Also worth noting, as this is a list of the Top 50 individuals, relay medals did not come into play, however race-changing relay contributions were valued highly.



50. Chase Kalisz: 2013 Highlight: A fast finishing 400 IM in Barcelona to win silver in 4:09.22 and announce his arrival on the international scene.



49. Jimmy Feigen: 2013 Highlight: Winning a surprise silver in a loaded 100 free final 0.02 seconds ahead of compatriot Nathan Adrian. Would have been higher up the list but a poor (by his standard) anchor leg helped France win the 4x100 free relay over the US.


48. Melani Costa - 2013 Highlight: While Katie Ledecky was chasing the world record in the 400 free, the race for second in Barcelona was comfortably Costa's with nobody getting within a second of her in the last 200m.


47. Laszlo Cseh - 2013 Highlight: Silver in the 100 fly gave him his ninth World Championship medal 10 years after his first.



46. Belinda Hocking - 2013 Highlight: The Australian put her 2012 disappointment behind her to repeat as World silver medallist in the 200 backstroke


45. Pawel Korzeniowski - 2013 Highlight: 1:55.01 in the 200 fly to take silver in Barcelona. Led Chad le Clos with 50m to go.



44. Radoslaw Kawecki - 2013 Highlight: A new European record in the 200 backstroke on his way to silver, pushing Ryan Lochte all the way.



43. Emily Seebohm - 2013 Highlight: Not able to recreate her 58.23 fireworks in the 100 back from London, but her 59.06 effort in the final was good enough for silver in Barcelona. Hopefully the next few years will see some more classic 100 backstroke battles between Seebohm and Missy Franklin.


42. Connor Dwyer - 2013 Highlight: A blazing 26.59 closing split in the 200 freestyle final at Worlds to move from 5th at 150m, up to silver at the touch. This marked the first major individual long course medal for the talented American.


41. Fabien Gilot - 2013 Highlight: A stunning 46.90 third leg of the victorious French 4x100 freestyle relay team. Gilot took over in 4th, and put Jeremy Stravius in the water first. His relay split was half a second faster than all others in the race.


On the bubble: David Plummer, Florent Manaudou, Arkady Vyatchanin, Eugene Godsoe, Marco Koch, Tyler Clary, Camille Muffat, Elizabeth Beisel, Fran Halsall, Konrad Czerniak, Connor Jaeger, Michael McBroom, Ying Lu, Wu Peng, Gregorio Paltrinieri, Fred Bousquet, Felipe Lima, Ye Shiwen, Hilary Caldwell, Giulio Zorzi, Matti Mattsson, George Bovell, Steffen Deibler, Jiao Liuyang, Elizabeth Pelton, Michael Jamieson