So many world records fell during last week's Australian Swimming Championships that it became top-of-the-page national news when 17-year-old Ian Thorpe went 24 hours without lowering a world standard of any kind--ending his personal streak at three records in three days.
But amid all the head-shaking times and hand-wringing over what the "fastskin" bodysuit has wrought, one world record brought the meet to a stunned standstill: Susie O'Neill breaking the oldest mark on the books--Mary T. Meagher's 200-meter butterfly time of 2 minutes 5.96 seconds, set in 1981 when Meagher was 16.
Regarded as "Beamonesque" at the time she set it, Meagher's record lasted nearly two decades before O'Neill was clocked at 2:05.81 Wednesday in Sydney.
"Finally," O'Neill said after climbing out of the pool and entertaining the crowd at the Sydney Aquatic Center with what can best be described as an Aussie version of the Ickey Shuffle.
For six years, O'Neill had chased the record, going unbeaten in the 200 butterfly since 1994, winning titles at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan Pacific Games, but still remaining fractions of a second behind Meagher.
O'Neill broke her Commonwealth record with a time of 2:06.51 in Monday's semifinals, but since it was slower than Meagher's, she described her effort as disappointing.
Wednesday, after the new record flashed across the scoreboard, O'Neill called it "a huge relief."
"Sometimes when you want something really bad it doesn't happen," she said. "I was starting to wonder. Tonight, coming into it, I was expecting not to get it."
The victory was the 35th national title for O'Neill, 26. Before the meet, she had given herself four chances to break the record in the 200--the semifinals and the finals at the Australian championships and the Olympics, but doubted it would happen at the Summer Games.
"World records don't often fall at the Olympics," she said. "You tighten up a bit."
She also chose not to wear the controversial "fastskin" bodysuit during the final stages of her pursuit, swimming instead in a more conventional neck-to-knee suit.
"I'm really glad I didn't," O'Neill said, "so no one could say it was the suit that swam a 2:05.
"I'm in a different situation to other people because I've been going for the record for so long. I really wanted to do it in 'short swimmers' just for my own peace of mind.
"I thought to myself that if I'd got it in the longsuit, I might have thought it was the suit that swam the time. Now I know it was me."
MIXED EMOTIONS FOR MARY T.
How does one deal with the loss of a record that had survived 19 years of training and technological advances and challenges from chemically enhanced Chinese and East German swimmers?
Meagher, now 35 and living in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, was, not surprisingly, conflicted when she learned the news.
"You couldn't ask for a nicer, more deserving person to break your record than Susie," Meagher, now known by her married name, Mary Plant, told Reuters. "I really admire her perseverance. She just missed it a few times but she kept working at it and finally did it.
"But there's a certain sadness that my name is no longer in the record book."
Looking back wistfully, Meagher mused about not going as hard as she should have in 1981 and putting the record further out of reach.
"I always felt I could do 2:04," she said. "When I did 2:05, the last 25 meters felt real easy. At the finish, I thought, 'I'm not tired, I could have kept going.' "
THORPEDO, LOCKED AND LOADED
Thorpe's itinerary for the Australian Championships, not the typical to-do list for your average 17-year old:
Saturday: Break world 400-meter freestyle record.
Sunday: Break world 200-meter freestyle record.
Monday: Just for kicks, break world 200-meter freestyle record again.
And Thorpe completed his three-day binge while suffering from a migraine and stomach pains.
No big deal, says the kid who strolls onto the pool deck like a prizefighter, wearing a long overcoat inscribed with his nickname, "Thorpedo."
"I've broken two world records when I've been sick," Thorpe told reporters. "The last time I had a migraine this bad was at the World Short-Course Championships in Hong Kong.
"Maybe it's a good thing. Maybe I should develop a migraine for Sydney."
Thorpe, however, failed to qualify for the Australian 100-meter freestyle team, meaning his gold-medal quest at the 2000 Games will max out at five--two short of Mark Spitz's record for one Olympics.
Which is one reason Thorpe has designs on two more Olympics after this one.
"I intend to retire in 2008--that is, if I continue enjoying my sport and I still have the drive I have today and still want to get up in the mornings to go to training until then.
"After that, I'll only be 25 years old. But I think I'll be an old 25 years old."
OLYMPIC BASEBALL: EVERYBODY, COME ON DOWN!
Tom Lasorda says he has been overwhelmed by the response to his being named coach for the U.S. Olympic baseball team.