George Bovell splashed to a gold in the 100 metres individual medley (IM) at the VI International Vladimir Salnikov Cup Swimming Tournament in St Petersburg, Russia yesterday although he just scraped into the final.
The 29-year-old ace Trinidad and Tobago swimmer sped to a 51.69 second timing, a new championship record, to claim the gold medal comfortably from Russia's Dmitry Zhilin (53.58) and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh (53.91).
The other finishers in the final were Anton Panferov (54.21), Vladislav Seryy (54.65), Vasily Grishin (54.76), Nikita Denisyako (55.12) and Australia's Travis Mahoney (55.14).
T&T's 2004 Athens Olympic bronze medallist, who won an historic bronze medal in the men's 100 IM at the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships Sunday, was comfortably ahead of the competition at the halfway stage after the butterfly and breaststroke legs with a 23.82 second split. Cseh, the man Bovell edged out for the bronze in the 200m IM in Athens, was the closest rival with 24.35.
But Bovell maintained his dominance in the second half, producing a 27.86 swim for the breaststroke and freestyle legs to record a final time of 51.69 in an event in which USA's Ryan Lochte—who won the gold in the 100 IM in Istanbul, and Australia's Kenneth To, who won silver—did not compete.
Bovell would have been grateful to be atop the medal podium after a misjudgement in the morning preliminaries nearly cost him a spot in the final. He was the eighth fastest qualifier (55.48) behind Panferov (54.63), Mahoney (54.99), Zhilin (55.01), Denisyako (55.10), Cseh (55.32), Serry (55.33) and Grishin (55.46).
"I took it easy this morning, almost like Russian Roulette and barely made the finals, qualifying eighth. So tonight the crowd and press loved this man from small Trinidad and Tobago who smashed the competition by two seconds from the outside lane. A memorable experience," he said.
Bovell's 100m IM swim (946 pts) was the highest on the FINA point scoring system (the system uses the existing world record as the top benchmark) which should give him a shoe-in for the men's overall prize.
"I should be the highest FINA point scorer with that time and the overall winner of the meet...This was a fun atmosphere here at this competition. The pressure is off, and it's about relaxing and letting your body and subconscious do what it has become very practiced at doing over the past few months. The few days of rest did me some good and the swim tonight felt light, fast and strong," the multiple Pan Am and Central American and Caribbean Games medallist said.
Bovell will have a tougher task of securing a gold medal in today's event, the 50m freestyle because it is stacked with fellow 2012 London Olympic finalists Bruno Fratus of Brazil and Roland Schoeman of South Africa, recently crowned world champion Vlad Morozov of Russia (who beat Bovell in Turkey) and European champion Sergei Fesikov. But Bovell remained optimistic.
"I intend to swim to qualify then bring it again tomorrow night (tonight)," he said.
The tournament, named after the legendary Russian Olympic gold medallist and long distance swimmer, will be Bovell's last before he comes home for Christmas.
Before a successful Worlds campaign in Turkey last weekend in which he missed out on another bronze in the 50m freestyle by four hundredths of a second, the four-time Olympian racked up 16 medals (seven gold, nine silver) during the FINA/Arena World Cup series that ended last month.
Bovell said his bronze medal performance at the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships was "vindicating" after a year of some disappointments. He is set to return home from Russia on Monday.