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Federica Pellegrini Rockets to an Italian Record in the 100m Free, Clocks a World-Leading 54.40 -- March 12, 2004 Federica Pellegrini

By Phillip Whitten

LIVORNO, Italy, March 11. FIFTEEN year-old Federica Pellegrini blazed a 54.40 for the 100 meters freestyle in a meet in Livorno yesterday to vault herself into Olympic medal contention in Athens this summer. The time -- the fstest in the world thus far this year -- broke the Italian national record set by her teammate, Cecilia Vianini, in 2001.

Known as "the lioness of Venice," because she decorates her bedroom with photos of lions, Pellegrini became the tenth fastest swimmer in history with her swim, with a time that would have earned her silver at the World Championships in Barcelona last July, and bronze at the Sydney Olympics ahead of the great Dara Torres.

A science student, Pellegrini reportedly "has never set foot in a discotheque," does not have a boyfriend, and is described by an Italian sports newspaper as classy, humble and not easily distracted. Though a rank newcomer on the international scene, Pellegrini has the coolness of a veteran.

This is a swimmer to watch in 2004.

A second national record was set in Livorno yesterday when Alessandra Cappa stroked 1:01.94 for the 100m backstroke, lowering her on standard of 1:02.46 set at the European Championships in Berlin in 2002.