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Competitive Swimming is one of the obscure sports I follow. Swimmer's Daily posted this video dedicated to the Korean swimmer Park Tae-Hwan. I instantly recognized the tune from the Marine Boy anime I watched as a child, and indeed the song is titled Marine Boy, though with quite different lyrics than I recall:
Hi, flip over that London town
The marine boy yo is coming out
Everyone move out of the way, new record
Set a record, a glorious venture
Higher, faster, further, let’s go
Marine Boy is a brave hero
Conquest a victory, the best in the world is going
Let’s go Marine Boy
The prince of the sea, marine boy
Fighting well under the blue sea
Wise, valiant and brave
Marine Boy is on our side
At the 2006 Asian Games, Park swam the 1500 in 14:55.03, winning the gold medal. He also won a gold medal at the 2006 Pan Pacifics with a slower 15:06.11. Park has also been successful at the 400m and 200m distances, but as a fitness swimmer, I find the 1500m most instructive to my swimming. If I ever compete in triathlons again, I may gravitate to the 10 kilometer open water event.
Park is still only 23, but if he is Marine Boy, he will face a school of Aqualads in London. Park took silver at the 2010 Asian Games swimming 15:01.72, and was 25 seconds behind 18 year-old Sun Yang, who swam 14:35.43.
At 19, Sun Yang surged late to 14:34.14 to win the 2011 World Championships gold medal, bettering Grant Hackett's 2001 Fukuoka gold medal time of 14:34.56. Canada's Ryan Cochrane took silver in 14:44.46, and Hungary's Gergo Kis took bronze in 14:45.66. All three were faster than Park's best time.
Cochrane, Sun, Kis, Tunisia's Oussama Mellouli who won gold in Beijing, Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri, Faroe Islands' Pal Joensen, America's Chad La Tourette and China's Zhang Lin comprise USAToday's top ten for the London 1500m event. I'm not sure why Cochrane is #1. He claims Sun was better trained for the World Championships, but Sun is the man to watch.
Though it undoubtedly helps that 6'-6" tall Sun is a long vessel, those of us who have taken Total Immersion swim workshops also see Sun as the embodiment of an efficient, technique-driven stroke. On his blog, Terry Laughlin noted:
... Sun Yang held 27 SPL [strokes per length] for 1250 meters, took 28 SPL for the next 200m and 32 SPL on his final 50. His average of under 28 SPL demolished what had seemed a nearly untouchable efficiency standard Grant Hackett had set when he averaged 31 SPL in setting the former record. Sun’s swim was even more of a landmark accomplishment than Popov’s in 1992, because he improved on Hackett’s efficiency benchmark by nearly 13 percent.
I recall reading in one of Cecil Colwin's books that at some point in the past, US swimming fans were worried that the technically superior Japanese would dominate swimming forever:
[Kitamura Kuoso] startled the world in Los Angeles in 1932. The occasion was the longest swimming race of the Olympic Games, the "metric mile", 1500 meters.
Kitamura won the gold medal in Olympic record time. He was 14 years old, which made him the youngest man, then, now or ever, to win an Olympic crown. This performance was the key to a Japanese influence in swimming, nutrition, training and stroke mechanics, which dominated the sport until World War II and shook the western aquatic world to its splash gutters. Kitamura was the first in a trend toward younger and younger swimming champions, and the symbol of hard training that had hitherto been considered psychologically, if not physically, impossible.
In 1938, Amano Tomikatsu set a world record of 18:58.80 in Tokyo that stood for eleven years. In 1949, Hashizume Shiro swam 18:35.70 and later that same day, Furuhashi Hironoshin swam 18:19.00, a record that stood for over six years.
Born in 1928, he should have been at his peak by the 1948 Olympics, and was, but Japan was not yet permitted back into the Olympic family of nations. The next best thing was a meet of their own in Tokyo with the same events and as near the same conditions as possible for the uninvited. Furuhashi responded by winning both the 400 and 1500 meter freestyle races in world record times well below the Olympic winners in London. Obviously this helped Japanese morale but neither Japan nor the world were quite so impressed then, as in August 1949, when Furuhashi was invited to participate in the U.S. Nationals in Los Angeles. Furuhashi responded with 3 world records: 400 freestyle (4:33.3); 800 freestyle (9:35), and 1500 freestyle (18:19.0), all well below his competition. Furuhashi's times were the inspiration for George Breen's and Murray Rose's great performances 6 years later.
The great Australian distance swimmer Murray Rose passed away from leukemia several weeks ago. Born in England, he'll certainly be remembered during the London games so it is worth mentioning his place in the 1500 event. In 1956, Breen's WR of 18:05.90 eclipsed Furuhashi. Six months later, Rose swam 17:59.56 in Melbourne, beating Yamanaka Tsuyoshi by 1.4 seconds to take the gold, and becoming the first man to break 18 minutes. A month later, Breen took the record back with 17:52.90. But in 1964, even though he had missed Olympic trials while trying to be an actor in LA, Rose set another WR with 17:01.80 at the American National Championships. Considered a very tactical swimmer, and called the 'seaweed streak' due to his vegetarian diet, Iain Murray Rose traced his family back to Scottish barons who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden.
The Aussies are looking for a prospect that will put in the work to continue the line from Rose through John Konrads, Steve Holland, Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett. For the US it has been a long time since Mike Burton, John Kinsella, Rick DeMont and Brian Goodell set 1500m records in the 1960s and 70s.