World swimming champions gear up for showdown in Singapore

The infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands' Skypark overflowing with stardust with this collection of champions and record-breakers.
The infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands' Skypark overflowing with stardust with this collection of champions and record-breakers.PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID WIRAWAN

Three-man race to be the fastest Swim Star will be event's highlight

Bragging rights to be the fastest man in the pool are up for grabs today at the inaugural Prudential Singapore Swim Stars, and all signs are pointing towards a straight aqua shoot-out between Nathan Adrian, Anthony Ervin and Benjamin Proud at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

The trio are the leading contenders for the 50m freestyle title after Australia's reigning 100m freestyle world champion James Magnussen withdrew because of a back injury.

And Proud, who won the 50m free and butterfly events at this year's Commonwealth Games, is relishing the prospect of going head-to-head against Olympic gold medallist Adrian of the United States.

Proud's personal best of 21.76sec is some way off Adrian's best of 21.46 set in 2009. But the 19-year-old Englishman said: "Just going to race with him will be a buzz. Physically, I might not be at that standard yet but each race is an opportunity to chip away at the gap. There is no room for error and I'm going to put up a good fight."

The top four in the 50m free will qualify for a semi-final, and the top two will compete in what organisers dub the "super final" - a one-on-one swim-off.

The 100m events feature up to eight swimmers in direct finals, doing away with the traditional heats. A prize purse of US$140,000 (S$175,000) will be split among the top-three swimmers of the nine events, making it one of the most lucrative competitions on the swimming calendar.

By comparison, winners get US$1,500 (S$1,900) for each win at the Fina Swimming World Cup series, a short-course meet spread over eight legs, while gold medallists at last year's World Championships in Barcelona earned US$15,000 per victory.

Proud's compatriot Adam Peaty, 19, is also looking forward to duelling with South Africa's Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burgh and four-time Olympic gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima in the 100m breaststroke.

Peaty, who broke the 50m breaststroke world record at the European Championships in Berlin last month, said: "It would be nice to make a statement of intent by winning. I've never raced Kitajima before, so that's exciting, and Cameron's a world record-holder.

"It's a stacked field. I'm in good form so, hopefully, I can go out there and bring it back."

Proud and Peaty are part of a group of rising British swimmers, alongside reigning Commonwealth Games champions Francesca Halsall (50m free and fly) and Georgia Davies (50m back).

While all eyes will be on the 50m freestyle showdown, the meet's strong line-up - which also includes 50m and 100m breaststroke world record-holder Ruta Meilutyte and world champion Katinka Hosszu (200m and 400m individual medley) - means spectators are in for a treat.

Local swimmers will also get a chance to pit themselves against the elite swimmers. Among those flying the Singapore flag include Russell Ong (50m free), Amanda Lim (50m free) and Roanne Ho (100m breast).

siangyee@sph.com.sg