By Stephen J. Thomas

BARCELONA, July 27. THEY say the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain but certainly it was raining world records this past eight days on the Palau Sant Jordi pool overlooking the balmy Mediterranean coast.

There were a total of fourteen new world record set at the championships and one versatile 18-year-old, American Michael Phelps, added his fifth world record to his list of achievements tonight when he smashed his own global standard in the 400m IM.


Men's 400m individual medley
As Michael Phelps amrched out to the starting blocks for his final swim tonight, he did not want any more surprises. Not after the 100 fly last night.

Phelps swam the fly leg in 55.44 (+0.40 WR). Hungarian newcomer, 18-year-old Laszlo Cseh, was next in 57.24. After the backstroke leg Phelps split 1:58.22 to go -0.05 under his WR pace, with Cseh comfortably second in 2:00.86.

At the 300m Phelps had dropped a huge, 1.52 under WR pace with some hot breaststroke, but Cseh was not dropping off, turning in 3:12.77 (just +0.27 off world pace).

The man of the meet powered home to wipe 1.56 seconds off his old world standard as he touched in 4:09.09. The Hungarian swam a brilliant race for silver clocking the third fastest swim in history 4:10.79, just 0.06 short of the old record. Cseh had dropped almost five second off his PR coming into this meet. In the process, he broke legend Tamas Darnyi's national and Euro record, another young man to watch.

The bronze medal went to Oussama Mellouli in 4:15.36 (13th all-time performer) swimming for Tunisia (the country's first medal) but based in California at USC and coached by Mark Schubert. American Tom Wilkens was fourth in 4:16.06.

Men's 50m backstroke
Thomas Rupprath became the second man to go under the 25-second mark in the 50m back when he splashed a new world record 24.80 dropping 0.19 seconds under American Lenny Krazelberg's old mark set in 1999.

The 26-year-old German had previously taken silver in this event in 2001. Aussie Matt Welsh took silver tonight in a national record 25.01, fourth fastest swim all-time, to add to his gold in the 50 fly and bronze in the 100 backstroke.

The South African team had been talking up their 19-year-old rising dorsal star Johannes Zandberg all week, so it was less of a surprise to them when he clocked a NR 25.07 to take bronze in the sixth fastest swim all-time and South Africa's first medal of the Championships.

German Steffen Driesen took fourth place clocking a PR 25.14 (7th all-time performer) ahead of 2001 title-holder American Randall Bal in a PR 25.19 (8th fastest all-time). Aaron Peirsol the dual gold medalist in the dorsal 100-200 events finished eight.

Men's 1500m freestyle
Aussie distance great Grant Hackett continued his relentless pursuit of excellence in the 30-lap race tonight. The easy-going 22-year-old Queenslander has been in a class of his own globally in this event for some time and, if anything, tonight showed that the pretenders to his crown have slipped away even further from the challenge.

Hackett swam his own race tonight. At the 200 mark he turned in 1:54.48, almost four seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, Ukrainian Igor Chervynskyi, at 1:58.23.

By 800 meters, the lead had grown to almost 11 seconds as Hackett turned in 7:49.41 (WR split 7:44.47) with Chervynskyi still holding second in 8:00.50.

Hackett has had a long week. He had said he felt "a little flat" at the start of the meet, so his performance to take his third gold medal of the meet tonight in clocking 14:43.14 - the 4th fastest swim in history - speaks volumes for his tenacity.

He holds seven of the top ten swims over the gruelling distance with that other Aussie distance champ, Kieren Perkins, owning the other three. He became the third man to win a championship event three times. The other two: Ian Thorpe and Alexander Popov.

Back in the fight for the minor medals American, Erik Vendt was making up ground on Chervynskyi. At the 800 meter turn Vendt was almost five seconds adrift but by the 1200m it was just one-and-a-half seconds. At the start of the last 100m, Vendt was only 0.10 seconds behind and fighting for the silver but Chervynskyi found something and grabbed the silver in PR 15:01.04 to Vendt's 15:01.28.

Young Brit David Davies was fourth in a PR 15:05.04 ahead of a disappointing Larsen Jensen (15:08.25) and Fukuoka silver medalist Graeme Smith (15:12.64).

Womem's 50m freestyle
In a dominant performance, world record-holder Inky de Bruijn took her second gold of the championships splashing 24.47, just 0.02 outside her own CR.

The 29-year-old Dutch triple Olympic champion was the only women to swim under 25-seconds in this competition having also clocked 24.75 in the prelims.
De Bruijn downplayed her own double gold at the meet, instead lauding the performance of Russian Popov.

Two rising Aussie stars - 17-year-old Alice Mills (PR 25.07) and 18-year-old Libby Lenton (25.08) - took the minor medals and will certainly be in the mix at the Big O's next year.

Mills said after her swim, "I didn't think I could do it. I came to these championships for experience to get ready for the Olympics, I did not think I would medal here."?

American veteran Jenny Thompson was unlucky to finish just 0.02 seconds off a medal clocking 25.10, the third time she has just missed a medal in the final of this event at a world championships. Twenty-nine year-old German, Sandra Volker, who has twice previously picked up medals in this event, was fifth (25.14) with Slovakian Martina Moravcova next (25.17).

Women's 50m breaststroke:
Chinese Luo Xuejuan won her second consecutive championship in this event when she clocked 30.67, just 0.03 seconds outside her CR set last night. Twenty-five year-old Aussie Brooke Hansen took the silver from the world record-holder, Great Britain's Zoe Baker (31.37). Baker had gone 31.10 as fastest qualifier in the heats yesterday. The two-lap world record-holder Leisel Jones was fourth ahead of American duo Tara Kirk (31.87) and Kristy Kowal (31.96).

Women's 400m individual medley
The Ukrainian world record-holder and title-holder Yana Klochkova has been very tough to beat in major meets but it was felt that Hungarian Eva Risztov might be the one to get on top in this clash.

Last year at the European champs these two battled it out with Klochkova winning in the final leg. The race tonight was again a struggle between the two swimmers. Klochkova held a lead from the first turn and although there was less than a second between the two the entire way, Risztov was never able to close the gap.

Klochkova won in 4:36.74 (missing the CR by 0.64 seconds) with Risztov second (her third of the meet) in 4:37.39 and Romanian Beatrice Caslaru taking bronze in 4:41.86.

American Maggie Bowen, the silver medalist from Fukuoka, looked a chance for the bronze after the backstroke leg but lost too much ground in the breaststroke - ironically, her strongest stroke - to finish in fourth place (4:43.21).

Men's 400m medley relay
Team USA was DQ'ed back in Fukuoka so there was something to settle here although the Aussies, who took gold in 2001 were DQ'ed in the prelims.

The America team was an awesome combination on paper: Peirsol, Hansen, Crocker and Lezak. They just had to transfer what it said on paper to the water. And that's exactly what they did.

Peirsol got the team off to a brilliant start clocking 53.71 (3rd fastest all-time). Hansen did a good job clocking 59.61 (2nd fastest all-time), Japan's world record holder went 59.11 to record the fastest all-time split and put Japan in second place with the Russians holding third.

Over to Ian Crocker. With the world record under his belt, he split an amazing 50.39 (fastest all-time), putting the US over three seconds in front of Japan and Russia. Jason Lezak swam the final leg in 47.83 (7th fastest all-time). Game over - a new world record 3:31.54 (-1.94 under the old mark set at the Pan Pacs last year by USA).

That man Popov finished for Russia, getting by Japan's Hosokawa in 47.95 to grab the Russians silver in a NR 3:34.72. Japan took the bronze also in a national and Asian record 3:36.12, just in advance of France 3:36.39.

To finish the meet in style, Hoogie splashed 46.70 (the fastest all-time relay split) in his freestyle leg for the Dutch to give them fifth spot (3:37.12). Popov ended the meet with three gold and a silver, his best world championships performance.


Results: 2003 FINA World Championships