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1999 European Championships: Day 6 -- July 31, 1999

DUTCH RELAY DQ'd; HOOGIE DENIED FIFTH GOLD

By Craig Lord

Istanbul, Turkey - Flying Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband today swam the fastest ever split over 200m freestyle in a relay - 1:45.20 - but was denied the chance to win a Spitzean seven gold medals because the Dutch quartet he brought home well ahead of their rivals was disqualified for a false start under the one-start rule. The Italian team, which touched second behind the Dutch, was also disqualified, for a faulty takeover, leaving Germany with the title. Britain, defending champions but well off the pace, was awarded second and a Russian squad further yet from its national best, third.

"Hoogie", as he has been labeled by Swimming World, was disappointed, not for the loss of his Spitzean chance, however: "It's not my medals that I feel for. It's the guys in the team. This would have meant so much to them and we were so far ahead." Indeed they were. Van den Hoogenband's blistering last leg brought the Dutch home in 7:14.39, to Italy's 7:19.10, with Germany at 7:19.63 and Britain at 7:19.91.

Van den Hoogenband can still equal the record tally of gold medals at a European Championships, held by German Michael Gross, from 1985, and Franziska van Almsick, from 1993. The Dutchman yesterday clocked 22.09 in the semi-finals of the 50m freestyle to establish a championship record that is faster than any other victory over 50m at the World and Olympic level barring the 21.91 that took Alexander Popov to his first Olympic 50m crown in Barcelona 1992. Van den Hoogenband, if he puts the 50m gold medal in his bag, then has to rely again on his teammates in the medley relay to join the German six-title winners.

Lars Frolander, of Sweden and Southern Methodist University, added the European 100m butterfly title to his world short-course title in the same event. His 52.61 victory over Britain's James Hickman, second in 52.97 and Ukrainian Denis Silantiev, third at 53.04, was settled in the first 25m of the race. He established a stroke lead by then and never relinquished his gain.

Agnes Kovacs, of Budapest, made history of sorts yesterday. She collected her third breaststroke title in winning the 200m in 2:27.12. As such the 18-year-old mistress of superb technique became the first European swimmer to achieve that feat, given that 50m races for each stroke have been introduced for the first time here in Istanbul. Kovacs had already won the 50 and 100m titles here.

Camelia Potec, the Romanian who finished third behind the now disgraced Michelle Smith de Bruin over 200m freestyle two years ago, was in a class of her own in the same event this time round, winning in 1:58.79. The title has only been won in a faster time twice before; by the GDR's Heike Friedrich in 1987 and Van Almsick, who set the championship record of 1:57.97 in 1993 on her way to those six gold medals. Van Almsick watched from the stands yesterday, the former world champion having failed to qualify for Germany in the event.

Ralf Braun brought Germany its first title of the day by design, as opposed to the second one it won by default in the relay. The World Championship silver medal winner in the 200m backstroke (behind America's Lenny Krayzelburg) won the final of that event here in 1:59.74. He was the only man to get below 2 minutes.

In the semi-finals, Inge de Bruijn, of Holland, established a European record of 24.84 in the 50m freestyle, lowering the 24.88 she swam earlier in July. That qualified her fastest by a huge margin for the final today (Sunday) and prompted her to say: "I never think of breaking records because if I do they never seem to happen. I would rather just think of swimming fast and be surprised if I break a record."