Year in review: Swimming in 2010

Los Angeles: Sanity returned to swimming in 2010, and if that made for fewer fireworks, there was plenty of pop to be found in the pool from the likes of emerging star Ryan Lochte and a resurgent China.

After the controversial polyurethane swimsuit era saw the record books rewritten, the sport returned to woven textile costumes, turning back the clock in a move that was most evident, well, on the clock.

Not a single long course world record fell in 2010 - after 2009 saw all but four of the current 32 established.

Lochte, who shone all season, was the only individual world record-setter of the year with his 200m and 400m short course medley world marks at the season-ending Short Course World Championships at Dubai.

"I was just happy to get a world record without those suits," Lochte said.

Throughout a stellar season in the long course 50m pool, Lochte had argued that the return to textile suits didn`t mean an end to world records.

"It`s only a matter of time," Lochte insisted as he piled up victories, including 200m medley and 200m backstroke triumphs over 14-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps at the US championships.

It was a quiet year for Phelps, who admitted he was paying the price for less than dedicated training. He skipped the short course worlds, but did enough at the US nationals to secure his place for the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai.

The first world mark of the year to fall was to China, when their women lowered the short course 4x200m freestyle relay record in Dubai.

China`s 14 total short course medals included three golds and was their best showing at a world meeting since the drug-tainted 1994 world championships.

Their strong showing at Dubai followed a dominant performance as hosts of the Asian Games, where Chinese swimmers grabbed 24 of the 38 gold medals on offer to leave fierce rivals Japan trailing in their wake on just nine, with South Korea on four.

Sun Yang added lustre to China`s performance on the final night of the Asiad when he came within a whisker of smashing Australian star Grant Hackett`s long-standing world record in the men`s 1,500m freestyle. Sun didn`t even make the trip to Dubai, leaving it to a young Chinese squad to signal the country`s intentions for the coming years.

Perennial powerhouse Australia, in a season focused on the Commonwealth Games, dominated in New Delhi where Alicia Coutts won five gold medals and Leisel Jones took the 10th of her near flawless Commonwealth career.

Australia finished the year with a whimper, however, nabbing just one gold medal at the short course worlds.

Aussie national head coach Leigh Nugent, however, was confident that was due to the absence of some of the nations` most experienced swimmers and that the seven silvers garnered by the young short course squad augured well for next year and beyond.

France topped the medals table at the European Championships, their 21 medals including eight gold.

France`s men, who haven`t always been able to parlay their sprint prowess into relay success, also won the 4x100 free relay at Dubai in a European record.

The predominance of regional championships gave 2010 a fragmented feel, but next year`s long course World Championships will offer a clearer picture as the build up begins in earnest for the 2012 Olympics.

There such swimmers as Spain`s Mireia Belmonte, winner of three golds in Dubai, will try to back up their breakout performances.

For Lochte, 2011 will likely be about trying to stay in front of Phelps.

"Obviously, Ryan Lochte is the best swimmer in the world this year. No question," Phelps` coach Bob Bowman said. "That will be a huge challenge for Michael going forward, hopefully a motivator."