PETRIA THOMAS may have been out of swimming for the past five years, but Mullumbimby's 'Madam Butterfly' is such a competitor that she can't help but think about the times she could have posted wearing the new generation of swimsuits causing such a stir at the world championships in Rome.
While agreeing the event had become a 'farce' because of governing body FINA's decision to allow world records set by swimmers wearing the more buoyant Jaked 01, Arena X-Glide and Adidas Hydrofoil polyurethane swimsuits to stand, Thomas said there was still a 'wow' factor about the times.
Take one of Thomas's pet events, the 100m butterfly, for example. On Tuesday, a Swedish teenager by the name of Sarah Sjostrom set a world record with a time of 56.06 seconds which by far eclipsed Holland's Inge de Bruin's long-standing mark set at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
“My best time (for that event) was 57.3 seconds and that was the best in the world that year,” Thomas said.
“But the top seven girls in the final of that event went under 57 seconds, and the winner went around 56 seconds, and that beat one of the oldest records in the books which was Inge de Bruin's.
“That was an incredible time set back in 2000 and now that has just been obliterated.”
The triple Olympic gold medallist is concerned that the heroic deeds of past champions such as Dutchwoman de Bruin and Australia's Ian Thorpe, who had his seemingly unbreakable 400m freestyle record taken from him by a little-known German swimmer, will be forgotten in the wake of the new technology sweeping the sport.
“If you look at some of the results and times people are swimming this year they are making those champions look second rate, but I hope their efforts don't get lost in all of this,” Thomas said.
“The guy that broke Ian's world record did it by a couple of seconds and by his own admission said he couldn't have done it without the suit.
“For this particular championship you can't really look at the times, because swimmers are gaining a lot of assistance, but even so you certainly do think, 'Wow that's incredible'.
“But when you put it into perspective, the suits have made such a difference, that you really need to forget about the times and just look at the racing and who stands up and wins.”
FINA has muddied the waters by saying it will ban the new high-tech suits from next year, meaning it will be much harder for swimmers to break world records leading into the 2012 London Olympics.
“I don't think it is fair,” Thomas said.
“Certainly athletes in the future years are going to be at a distinct disadvantage in their quest to break world records.
“FINA have shown a real lack of leadership in this area and they really haven't given a good direction for athletes and coaches competing now and into the future.
“Put it this way, if you are a world record holder at the end of this year, then it's probably going to last a long while.”
But sitting on her couch in Canberra, where she now lives a comfortable life with her partner and two young children, Thomas admitted watching the world titles did bring back a few familiar twinges.
“I don't think I'll ever experience anything in my life that is as exciting as the World Championships or particularly the Olympics. I'll miss it until the day I die,” she said.
“But I do find myself wondering, if I had one of these suits would I be able to swim as fast as those girls? I don't know.”
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