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A swimming phenom
Question of the Day
Pick one: obliterated, smashed, demolished, crushed, shattered. No word is too hyperbolic to describe the feat achieved June 17 in California by Northern Virginia swimming phenom Kate Ziegler, the 18-year-old George Mason University freshman who destroyed the swimming world’s oldest world record.
In a sport whose records often last only from one meet to the next, and occasionally from one heat to the next, Miss Ziegler shattered the 1,500-meter freestyle record set by Janet Evans in March 1988, three months before Miss Ziegler was born. In a sport where world records and Olympic victories are routinely measured in the tenths and hundredths of a second, Miss Ziegler chopped a jaw-dropping 9.56 seconds from the Evans mark, which had stood for nearly 20 years.
As Miss Ziegler’s world-class swimming career has advanced before the public, beginning with the 2005 World Championships in Montreal, we all witnessed the real-time development of the greatest women’s distance swimmer in history. Barely two weeks after she turned 17, Miss Ziegler captured gold medals in the 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle events in Montreal. In March, she successfully defended both titles at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne. In an electrifying finish that still gives goose bumps to swimming aficionados, Miss Ziegler came from behind very late in the last lap of Melbourne’s 800 to overtake (by 0.28 seconds) French swimmer Laure Manaudou, who owns the world records in the 200- and 400-meter freestyle events, the latter captured in 2006 after Miss Evans had held it since 1987.
In setting World Championship records in both events in Melbourne earlier this year, Miss Ziegler sent a strong signal that Miss Evans‘ remaining records in the 800 and the 1,500 were in jeopardy. As a scholastic swimmer at Arlington’s Bishop O’Connell High School, where she maintained a grade-point average above 4.0 her senior year, Miss Ziegler broke Miss Evans‘ 500-yard freestyle record. Growing up idolizing Miss Evans, Kate Ziegler has also broken her records in the 1,000-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events, having now collected all three short-course distance records once owned by Miss Evans.
At the recent TYR Meet of Champions in California, where she set a new 1,500-meter world record (15:42:54), Miss Ziegler also won the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle events. The 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing beckon, but to the International Olympic Committee’s great discredit, there will be no 1,500-meter race for women. (For the record, Australian Grant Hackett owns the men’s record: 14:34.56.) This anachronistic insult needs to be addressed before the 2012 London Olympics, when Kate Ziegler, who turns 19 tomorrow (Happy birthday, Kate), will be a seasoned, 24-year-old veteran.
By Michael Widlanski
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