Winner from lane 8 and 1


The history of sport, including swimming, is full of surprise winners: unpredicted (sometimes “unpredictable”) winners. Although their number does not match that of those who predictably won the competition where they were favourites, those who won from lane 8 or lane 1 are not exactly rare. Now that the time seems to have come for swimming to be contested in 10- lane pools, we recall a few of the special feats accomplished from an outside lane.


In swimming, the most glamorous win from an outside lane is that by a swimmer who had been counted among the favourites on the eve of racing but then made a serious error of judgment and missed the cut-off for the final. Salvation came in the form of a teammate who stepped aside to allow a goldmedal prospect access to the final eight by the skin of her teeth. The case in point is that of 16-year-old, classy and beautiful German Franziska van Almsick, who at the 1994 FINA World Championships in Rome won the 200 metres freestyle from lane 8.
Controversially, Van Alm - sick originally missed the cut: her heats time of 2:01.55 was only good for 9th place. Fate intervened: her teammate Dagmar Hase, who had placed 8th in preliminaries, was persuaded – for the price of a luxury holiday with her boyfriend – to withdraw from the final in favour of “Franzi” taking to her blocks in lane 8. The teenage prodigy swam in anger, giving it her all in a desperate quest for the gold medal that she had almost robbed herself of.

Franzi took the lead down the first length but Lu Bin, of China (and that summer suspended for a doping offence), ploughed ahead at the 100m and 150m marks. The German teenager found fire in her belly on the way home and found the strength to touch first, in a world record time of 1:56.78 (0.73 of a second off the previous mark, held by East German Heike Friedrich). The race went down in swimming history for three main reasons: 1) originally, Van Almsick did not make the final; 2) she won from lane 8, beating a Chinese woman from a squad that dominated the championships before seven of the national squad tested positive later that summer, confirming suspicions that all was not well; and 3) she won in a fabulous world-record time, one that stood for eight years (until Van Almsick herself bettered it in Berlin, at the 2002 European Cham pion ships, on 1:56.64 at the height of a great comeback). Franziska van Almsick grew up in Berlin, where she was selected as a talented youngster in the GDR sports system not long before the Berlin Wall fell. In 1992, at 14, she was the youngest member of the then reunified German team at the Bar celona Olympic Games, where she sensationally won two silver and two bronze medals, two of those in relays, the silver in the 200m freestyle and the bronze in the 100m freestyle.
While the case of Franziska van Almsick remains unique, other legendary champions managed to win big races from lane 8.

Franziska van Almsick

Even the Russian “Tsar” Alex Popov can be counted among them. On May 16, 2004, at 32 and while approaching the end of his career, the best sprinter in history won his fifth 50m freestyle title on the last day of the European Swimming Cham - pion ships in Madrid. He barely scraped into the final, qualifying eighth in the semi-finals by just 0.03sec. Swimming in lane 8 in the final, Alex took the lead at the start and powered to the wall, in his magical and incomparable style, to touch as a champion once more, in 22.32sec, for a record 10th European crown 13 years after his first, in Athens 1991. Sweden’s Stefan Nystrand was second in 22.42. Popov said: “I am not 100 percent but at least I know what I have to do. It is a very busy time for me, with the Russian nationals next week followed by more races and then the Olympics.” At the time, Popov held both the world and the European record in 21.64 (from June 16, 2000 in Moscow), as well as the Championships record, of 21.95 (from July 9, 2000 in Helsinki).
From the “king of sprint” to the “king of distance”: Australia’s Kieren Perkins. At the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Perkins, also swimming in lane 8, won gold in the 1500 metres freestyle, in 14:56.40, well ahead of compatriot Daniel Kowalski. His stroke rate was sustained, quite even, like a sprinter, and he managed to keep it up throughout the race, evidence of the hard training he did to achieve that level of fitness and efficiency.
Another Australian, Matt Welsh, in Barcelona, at the 2003 FINA World Cham - pionships, also swimming from lane 8, won gold and set a new world record in an event he rarely swam, the 50m butterfly. Welsh had built a reputation as one of the world’s best backstrokers of his era.
On July 2005, at the FINA World Championships in Montreal, Canada, three top swimmers, all female, won their respective races swimming either in lane 8 or lane 1, as they all barely made the final. France’s Laure Manaudou won the women’s 400 metres freestyle, with the time of 4:06.44. Manaudou was under world-record pace for the first half of the race. In the second half, she was challenged by Ai Shibata, of Japan and the women who outreached her over 800m at the 2004 Olympics. Manaudou eventually eclipsed the world 400m record set of 4:03.85 set by Janet Evans (USA) at the 1988 Summer Olympics: on May 12, 2006 on her way to the French titles in Tours, Manaudou clocked 4:03.03.


At Montreal 2005, Kate Ziegler, of the United States, swimming in lane 1, won the 1,500 metres freestyle in the time of 16:00.41, the third best time ever (at that time, following only world-record holder Janet Evans’ 15:52.10 and German Hannah Stock - bauer‘s 16:00.18). Ziegler, a rookie in the USA team, had slipped almost unnoticed into the final of the 1,500m free, on 16:26.75, the second slowest. Ziegler also won the 800 metres world title, in 8:25.31.
Also at Montreal 2005 and also from lane 1, Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry won the women’s 100m backstroke gold. It was a clear cut victory as Coventry touched home in 1:00.24 ahead of Germany’s defending champion Antje Buschschulte, on 1:00.84. American Natalie Coughlin clocked 1:00.88. About swimming in lane 1 and winning the race, Coventry commented: “You’ve got a lane and you have to swim in it. Any lane is good.” She was not put off by her outside position, adding: “I like lane 1 now. It’s my new lane. I just swam my own race. I couldn’t really see anybody else. I was excited when I touched the wall.
From Athens 2004, two Olympic gold medals were won by women racing in lane 1: Romania’s Camelia Potec in the 200 metres freestyle and China’s Xuejuan Luo in the 100 metres breaststroke. On August 18, 2004, Potec clinched the Olympic wo men’s 200 metres freestyle title with a late surge down the final length. The 22-year-old Romanian, who won the European title in Madrid in May that year, turned third into the last length and burst through as world record holder Franziska van Almsick saw her dream of Olympic gold fading away. Potec won in 1:58.03. Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, then 16, the fastest qualifier from the semifinals, and Solenne Figués, of France, were one-two into the final turn but had to settle for silver and bronze in 1:58.22 and 1:58.45 respectively. The same happened in Atlanta, 1996, where the biggest favourite, Jani Sievinen of Finland touched the wall only second to Attila Czene at the 200m IM: when the Hun garian looked at the score-board his first reaction was: “No, I can’t believe it!” (Attila Czene was recently appointed the secretary of sports in the new government in Hungary.)

Kate Ziegler

The 2004 Summer Olympics was the highlight of Luo Xuejuan’s career. In Athens, she claimed the 100m breaststroke crown in a Olympic record of 1:06.64, the 3rd fastest time in history at the time, just 0.27 seconds off the world record. She qualified for the final in 7th on a mediocre 1:08.57; a remarkable feat considering that she was one of the slowest qualifiers for the final and swam in the outermost lane. Australian Leisel Jones took bronze, with 1:07.16, after setting an Olympic record of 1:06.78 in her semi-final. On January 24, 2007, Luo announced her retirement due to a heart condition: doctors suggested that her life could be in jeopardy if she continued to train at the intensity required for Olympiclevel athletes. Following her retirement, Luo resumed her university studies. In 2008 she became the first torchbearer for China at the Beijing Olympic Games.

Other winners from either lane 8 or lane 1 in recent years:

 Melbourne 2007: USA Women’s 4x200 metres freestyle relay (lane 8)

 Manchester 2008: Kylie Palmer (AUS), women’s 200 metres freestyle (lane 8); Suzaan Val Biljon (RSA), women’s 200 metres breaststroke (lane 1); Shayne Reese (AUS), women’s 100m IM (lane 8; Duje Draganja (CRO), men’s 50 metres freestyle (lane 1); Nathan Adrian (USA), men’s 100 metres freestyle (lane 1); Yuri Prilukov (RUS), men’s 400 metres free style (lane 1); Liam Tan cock (GBR), men’s 100 metres backstroke (lane 8).

(Photos: Getty Images)

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