Brilliant Swimming and Dodgy Walking

Review of the week: 3 – 9 August 2015

Kazan 2015 - Katie Ledecky wins 400m freestyle

Katie Ledecky was without a doubt the star of the World Swimming Championships in Kazan. She won individual gold in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle events and took a fifth title in the 4 x 200m relay. Although multiple medals are common in the sport, her haul was unique because of the range of distances that she covered. Her final event was the 800m but, just when tiredness might be expected to set in, she knocked nearly four seconds off the world record. There is no women’s 1500m on the Olympic programme but, with extra rest between races, four golds in Rio are a real possibility.

But it was a disappointing meet for the United States as a whole, which only had three more victories to add to Ledecky’s five. Instead, there was a strong performance from Great Britain, which won three gold medals, including three for Adam Peaty. Jamaica, Argentina and Singapore won their first ever medals in the pool. And there were some ominous signs that an American comeback might be on the cards. Not competing in Kazan because of a drink-drive conviction, Michael Phelps set two butterfly times in Texas which were faster than those swum by the recently crowned world champions.

Serbia won the men’s water polo competition for a third time, defeating Croatia in the final. The Olympic title continues to elude the Serbs but they must go into 2016 as the favourites. The women’s tournament was won by the Olympic champions, the United States. The Parapan American Games got underway in Toronto where Mexico and Brazil dominated the early swimming events. They are, by a wide margin, the two most successful nations in the history of the Games, with the United States a distant fourth.

Waleri Wiktorowitsch Bortschin 6328

The fallout continued from the IAAF doping scandal, discussed last week, with much of the attention, rightly, falling on Russia. It had already withdrawn its race walkers from the World Athletics Championships before the story broke. Controversy surrounds the Saransk training centre where Viktor Chegin has coached numerous walkers, most of whom have served bans for doping offences, including Valeriy Borchin (above). This has been documented by the Canadian race walker, Evan Dunfee. Geography can play a role in sporting success but, in this case, biochemistry seems to be more significant.

Nevertheless, the geography is interesting. It is not that the athletes travel to Saransk from all over Russia – most of them are local to Mordovia, a place where race walkers are said to be treated like rock stars. Of ten Olympic medals won by Russia since 2000, seven were claimed by walkers born in Mordovia, and the other three were born in the neighbouring regions of Chuvashia and Penza. In that period, at least sixteen athletes from Mordovia have competed at the Olympics, all but one in walking events. This is powerful evidence that where a person is born can strongly influence his or her choice of sport and, chillingly, whether or not that person decides to become a drugs cheat.

Next week: World badminton, European equestrianism, US PGA golf and boxing


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