PARIS: Veteran Inge de Bruijn will be going head on with the new wave of women swimmers in a bid to reaffirm her status as the queen of swimming at the Athens Games.
The reign of the glamorous Dutchwoman, nicknamed Inky, reached its height at the Sydney Olympics, when she shook off drugs slurs to take three gold medals.
But de Bruijn, who will turn 31 during the Games, has seen a lull in her record-breaking performances since the heady days of Sydney with new talent expected to push her all the way in the speed events.
The year 2000 was a revelation for the Dutchwoman with 11 world records and three Olympic golds – 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly – and anchoring the 4x100m team to Olympic silver.
But after splitting from her coach Paul Bergen last year she returned to Holland from the US and took a year off.
De Bruijn failed to qualify for the 100m freestyle, for which she was the world record holder, at last year’s world meet.
But just as she had done by skipping the 1996 Olympic Games, she bounced back at the Barcelona World Championships last year, winning the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly world titles.
She even boasted that the wealth of experience she had built up meant that she could take time out and still beat her younger opponents.
Her estrangement with Bergen was short lived and she returned to train with the American in Oregon late last year.
De Bruijn showed that she was on track for the Olympics during the 100m freestyle at the Amsterdam Swim Cup in April, when she swam 54.09 – the fastest she has done since Sydney.
“I did what I came for,” said de Bruijn after qualifying for Athens. “To belong to the top of the world, it needs to be faster, but for now it’s a good time.”
Despite her boasts, it remains to be seen whether she is capable of improving the times that outclassed the opposition in Sydney.
In the 50m sprint she should be pushed hard by Australia’s Lisbeth Lenton and Michelle Englesman, with challengers also including fellow Dutchwoman Marleen Veldhuis, Swede Therese Alshammar, and US veteran Jenny Thompson.
In the 100m freestyle, 19-year-old Finn Hanna-Maria Seppala, won the world title last year, and with as many as four women under 54 seconds the event could be the fastest in its history.
Lenton broke de Bruijn’s world record earlier this year with fellow Aussie Jodie Henry also a challenge along with American Natalie Coughlin.
But Bergen believes she can reclaim her mark and swim under 53sec in Athens.
“Her world mark in the 100m freestyle was the easiest to break. She should have made this record more difficult to break in 2000. Someone who can swim 24.14 on the 50m, should be able to realise a high 52 in the 100m,” said Bergen.
Nevertheless de Bruijn can expect to jostle for the limelight in Athens with Germany’s triple world champion Hannah Stockbauer, Ukrainian double Olympic champion Yana Klochkova and Thompson, a four-time Olympian. – AFP