By Stephen J. Thomas

BARCELONA, July 20. THERE were many moments to savour on the first night of competition in Barcelona.

* Ian Thorpe took his third consecutive 400 freestyle final


* Japan's Kosuke Kitajima became the second man to go under the minute in the 100 breast

* American Ian Crocker was only 0.03 seconds off the WR for the 50 fly

* Russia's Alexander Popov and USA's Jenny Thompson, two of the greatest swimmers of the past decade, anchored their respective teams to gold in the relays.


Men's 400m freestyle
This story has been written before. In fact, for the last three world championships, the Aussie dynamic duo of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett have utterly dominated this event. Tonight they went 1-2 yet again in a major international race.

Hackett duelled for the lead for the first half of the race then, almost to script, Thorpe moved away from Hackett in the third 100 and went on to touch in 3:42.58 - the tenth fastest swim all-time.

Thorpe now owns nine of the ten best swims over the distance. Hackett finished in 3:45.17 well off his PR 3:42.51 from the World Championships in 2001. Olympic finalist in this event, Romanian Dragos Coman surged home from lane 8 to take the bronze in a national record 3:46.87 (9th fastest all-time performer).

Olympic silver medalist in this event, Italian Massi Rosolino finished fourth in 1:47.44 with American Klete Keller next in 3:47.44 just outside his AR 3:47.00. The other American finalist, Chad Carvin was 7th in 3:50.36.


Men's 400m freestyle relay
In recent times it's been the Aussies and the Yanks battling it out for gold in this event. Tonight it was Russia, the old American foe from the last decade, which was back to their powerful best with one legendary figure, Alexander Popov - still at his best to anchor them to victory over team USA.

The Aussies held the early lead, and then the Yanks got their heads in front but the Russians moved to the lead with the last change. Jason Lezak was giving the Tsar of sprint freestyle over half-a-second start: game over. Popov split 47.71 to Lezak's 47.89. Russia finished in a new Championship and European record 3:14.06, not far short of the Aussies' world mark from the Sydney Olympics, 3:13.67.

For once the Aussies went without a medal, with young French sprinter Fred Bousquet swimming a sensational 47.03 final split (the second fastest in history) to come home over the top of Ian Thorpe (47.98) and take the bronze for France by just 0.01 of a second.


Women's 400m freestyle
German distance ace Hannah Stockbauer continued to grow in stature with a convincing win over Hungarian teen Eva Risztov and American Diana Munz.

The 21-year-old German moved to the lead mid-way through the race and was never challenged clocking 4:06.75 (PR 4:06.55). Risztov equalled her PR to touch in 4:07.24 with Munz close behind in 4:07.67. Aussie Elka Graham swam a strong second half to finish fourth in 4:08.60, taking another two seconds off her PR set in the morning and move to 2nd all-time Aussie behind the great Tracey Wickham who has held the CR at 4:06.28 for twenty-five years.

American Lindsey Benko finished a disappointing sixth in 4:09.82.


Women's 400m freestyle relay
The Aussies and the Yanks seemed set for another close tussle when Libby Linton (PR) and Nat Coughlin both clocked 54.64 on the first leg. Lindsay Benko put the USA in front by just 0.10 seconds over archrival Elka Graham with the German team holding third place.

Jodie Henry put the Aussies back in the lead on the third leg as she outswam American rookie Rhi Jeffrey, as the Germans, through Antje Buschschulte (54.09), moved into the second spot ahead of the USA.

In the final leg it was experience over youth with Jenny Thompson splitting a brilliant 53.44 (fifth fastest all-time split) getting Team USA home in 3:38.09 ahead of veteran Sandra Volker, 29, for Germany (3:38.73) and 17-year-old Alice Mills for the Aussies.

Germany, the current world record-holders could have done with missing team member Franzi van Almsick who decide to skip this meet.


Semi-finals:

Men's 50m butterfly
Team USA's Ian Crocker blasted a hot 23.47, just 0.03 seconds short of Aussie Geoff Huegill's WR to take the middle lane for tomorrow night's final. Huegill clocked 23.61 to be second best with German ace Thomas Rupprath (23.75) and Brit Mark Foster (23.76) certain to give the world record a shake tomorrow night.

Men's 100m breaststroke
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima became only the second man to break the minute when he clocked 59.98 (split 28.66) to qualify fastest for the final. Kitajima was only 0.04 seconds outside Russian Roman Sloudnov's world mark from the previous World Champs in Fukuoka. It will be very fast final with Brit James Gibson (1:00.47), who was under WR pace at the turn in 28.01; American record-holder Ed Moses (1:00.77); his team-mate Brendan Hansen (1:00.83); Frenchman Hugues Duboscq (1:00.98): and Canada's Morgan Knabe (1:01.05) all fighting for the neck jewelery.


Women's 100m butterfly
Olympic silver medalist Slovakian Martina Moravcova broke the championship record set only this morning by Jenny Thompson in the first semi-final tonight clocking a swift 58.05. But JT would have none of that, slicing 0.06 seconds off the new mark to touch in 57.99.

The European connection - Pole Otylia Jedrzejczak (58.44), Alena Popchanka from Belarus (58.61) and Swede Anna-Karin Kammerling (58.71) - were next through with Nat Coughlin also into the final in 58.97.


Women's 200m IM
Ukranian Yana Klochkova, the Olympic champion in this event, should be hard to beat in the final clocking 2:13.63 ahead of an inspired swim by Aussie Alice Mills, who clocked a national record 2:13.69 and China's Zhou Yafei (2:13.79). USA's Maggie Bowen, the reigning world champ, just made it into the final in eighth place (2:14.79).




Results: 2003 FINA World Championships