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1999 European Championships: Day 4 -- July 30, 1999

DOUBLE GOLD FOR THE FRENCH

Istanbul, Turkey - Day 4 of the European Swimming Championships was a day of glory for France, a day that also saw three European records fall. Franck Esposito showed there's still some fight left in his 28-year-old body, as he came from behind to overtake the 1998 World Champion, Denis Silantiev, in the final 10 meters to capture the European 200m butterfly title for the third time. His time was 1:57.20, just nine-hundredths ahead of Silantiev.

"The time was close to my best," said Esposito, but it was more important to win one year prior to the Olympics." Silantiev did not try to hide his disappointment: "I never expected to have such a bad performance here," he said.

In gaining a measure of revenge over the Ukrainian, who had out-touched him to win the global crown in Perth, the veteran Esposito reprised his European wins in the event in 1991 and 1997. In '97, Esposito and Silantiev also finished one-two.

Stephan Perrot won France's second gold of the evening when he took the 200m breaststroke in the 1999 world-leading time of 2:12.46. Perrot did it the hard way, by blasting into the lead, then trying to hold on. He barely made it, as Russia's Dimitri Komornikov came charging to the fore on the final lap, only to fall short by .42. Another Frenchman, newcomer Johann Bernard was a strong third. "The last ten meters were too hard," said Perrot, "but I have done a lot of mental training the last few months, and I felt relaxed, cool and mentally strong." Germany's Stev Theloke won the other men's final, when he stroked to a European record of 25.66 in the 50m backstroke, breaking Franck Schott's 1994 mark of 25.71. Theloke, who earlier won the 100 back, led a one-two sweep for Germany, as teammate Thomas Rupprath 25.94) followed him to the wall.

Germany picked up a second gold medal when 17-year-old Hannah Stockbauer won the women's 800m freestyle in 8:33.79. Stockbauer, last year's European Junior Champion, bided her time before taking over the lead at the 400m mark, then pulling away from Holland's Kirsten Vlieghuis and Germany's Jana Henke to win her first major title. Henke, 25, who barely held off a challenge from Switzerland's Flavia Rigamonti, has now won a medal in the 800 in five successive European championships. In 1993 she won the gold.

In the other women's final, Ukraine's Yana Klochkova picked up her second gold medal of the Championships when she won the 200m individual medley in 2:14.02, outswimming Romania's Beatrice Caslaru. The two finished one-two in the 400 IM two days earlier.

Two additional European marks were set in the semi-finals today. Holland's Inge DeBruijn clocked 58.92 in the 100m butterfly to shave .01 seconds from the European mark set by Sweden's Johanna Sjoberg on July 2. Sjoberg qualified second in 59.73, to set up an exciting final.

Britain's Zoe Baker also set a European record in a semi-final, lowering her own continental mark in the 50m breaststroke from the 31.52 she recorded three weeks ago to 31.43. She faces a strong challenge from Hungary's Agnes Kovacs, who won the 100m on Wednesday.

The men's 200m freestyle semi-final saw Holland's Pieter van den Hoogenband, qualify first in 1:47.79, a little more than a second off the world mark. The Flying Dutchman, who defeated Alexander Popov in the 100m on Wednesday, will be aiming at Grant Hackett's world record of 1:46.67. But a win is far from guaranteed, as Hoogie will face Italy's Massi Rossolino (1:48.40), the silver medalist in the 200 IM, and Britain's Paul Palmer, winner of the 400 free on Monday.

Palmer may be the luckiest swimmer of the meet. The defending champion in the 200m free, Palmer qualified seventeenth in an abysmal 1:52.57. But he was advanced into the semi-final when Lithuania's Arunas Savickas, withdrew unexpectedly. Palmer did not let this second chance slip away, as he swam 1:49.03 in the semis, placing him in lane 3 for the final, right next to the Flying Dutchman.