An Historic Day at European Champs

By Craig Lord

HELSINKI, July 6. It was an historical day at the European Championships in Helsinki as Flavia Rigamonti provided Switzerland with its first continental long-course title, Yana Klochkova and Beatrice Coada-Caslaru dead-heated in the final of the 200m medley to provide the first occasion on which joint gold medals have ever been awarded, and Stev Theloke gave the Makelrinne Swimming Center and the championships their first European record.

Two days after failing to make the final of the 100m backstroke,Theloke, of Germany, clocked 25.60sec in the 50m backstroke to shave 0.03sec off the European record he had set at the German Olympic trials two
weeks ago. He needed to set the record in order to win, Lithuanian Darius Grigalionis failing to topple the defending champion by just 0.01sec, with David Ortega, the Spaniard who won the 100m title, third on 26.00.

"After failing to make the 100m final, I decided to prove I could swim fast," said Theloke, from Chemnitz in eastern Germany. "I knew this morning that the winner would have to break the European record."

If the backstroke was close, the 200m medley for women was closer. As close as you can get in fact, as Klochkova, of Ukraine, and Coada-Caslaru, of Romania, rose to the top of this year's world rankings with a 2mins 12.57sec shared victory and championship record.

In a race notable for its seven body suits, they had not had it all their own way racing as they did in lanes 4 and 5. Over in lane 1, Susan Rolph, of Britain, led at the half-way stage and relinquished control of the race only 30m up the pool on the breaststroke. Her arms heavy with training and not having rested at all for the championships, Rolph faded from the pace but hung on for the bronze medal
in 2:15.82sec, the rest of the race slow for a major championship and reflective of the fact that LEN cannot hope to hold its showcase event in Olympic year and expect a set of meaningful results.

Klochkova split 29.68sec and 1:03.82 ahead Coada-Caslaru, who then put in a 37.35sec breaststroke split to overhaul the Ukrainian by half a second. Klochkova, a world-class 400m freestyler, came steaming back to
draw level with the Romanian with 5 meters to go, from which point the speed of the two rivals was identical.

Coada-Caslaru said: "I've never tied for first in a race before – it's a new experience. The time was good and so was the competition." The time pleased Klochkova too and she announced that she aims to win both the Olympic medley titles in Sydney.

Flavia Rigamonti, from Breganzona in Switzerland, won her first European long-course crown, and the first ever for Switzerland, in the fastest time an 800m title has been won in since 1989, when Anke Mohring
clocked 8:23.99sec for the GDR. Rigamonti's 8:29.16sec, which ranks her second on this year's world rankings just 0.05sec behind Diana Munz of the
US, represents the first time since the East German era that the European title has been won in under 8:30.

Rigamonti, 19 last Saturday, was kept company throughout the race by her 22-year-old training partner in Agno, Chantal Strasser, who finished
second in 8:31.36. At the 400m mark, both women, wearing identical sleeveless bodysuits, clocked 4:15.06sec. Rigamonti then made her break and
was more than a second clear 100m later, and 2 seconds clear by 600m. So the race was won. Kirsten Vlieghuis, of the Netherlands, finished third at 8:37.94.

The other two finals of the day went Russia's way with solid performances from Anatoli Poliakov in the 200m butterfly (1:56.73) and Dimitri Komornikov in the 200m breaststroke (2:13.09), both men showing the
potential to be medal winners in Sydney.

Poliakov, from Vorkuta and 20 since May, shadowed Britain's James Hickman to the half-way, Hickman passing the mark at 55.06sec, inside the world record pace of American Tom Malchow, the Russian on 55.40. The heavy arms of unrested Hickman then took a toll of the world short-course champion, and Poliakov stretched ahead to win comfortably, Hickman hanging
on for the silver medal in 1:58.44sec over Ioan Gherghel of Romania, at 1:58.54.

Poliakov and Hickman believe that it will take a high 1:54 or low 1:55 to win in Sydney. Both believe they can achieve that pace but said nothing could be read into the times in Helsinki because everyone was at
different stages of their training. They also noted the absence of the four Europeans absent from their race but ranked above them on the world rankings, namely Esposito, Silantiev, Parry and Rupprath. A 1:56 may be needed to make the final in Sydney.

Komornikov had a stress-free race in the 200m breaststroke, his nearest rival, Domenico Fioravanti, of Italy, well back on 2:14.87, a touch ahead of Maxim Podoprigora, of Austria, whose 2:15.07 – which stand up
unfavourably in history against the 2:15.11 set by Britain's David Wilkie in 1976 – was good enough for bronze.

The best performance of the semi-finals came from Massimiliano Rosolino, of Italy, with a 1:47.53sec that promises a great final with Pieter van den Hoogenband. The semi-finals also produced the controversy of the day, as Germany protested against the decision to disqualify Sandra Voelker for what was called "an early turn" and kick into the wall in the
100m backstroke.

Though Voelker and Germany are not likely to win their protest, they were right to complain. The swimmer had done nothing to raise an eyebrow and at a championship short of star quality, the vultures on the deck would have been wise to let the experience in the water talk louder than their own inexperience for what passes muster in international backstroke these days.

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