Euro Champs: Popov, Alshammar Take the 100 Free; Pankratov Fails to Qualify

By Craig Lord

HELSINKI, July 5. ALEXANDRE Popov, of Russia, swam to win and not break records in the 100 meter
freestyle, gaining revenge on the man who had beaten him a year ago, Pieter van den Hooganband, of the Netherlands. Their times were 48.61sec and
48.77sec, the margin masking the Russian's comfort. Popov gave nothing away after winning his record fifth 100m European title. The race provided no
clues, no hints for Sydney and the Russian said only: "Oops, I did it again – but no world records today!"

In contrast, Therese Alshammar, of Sweden, was happy to reveal her ambition after taking the 100m freestyle title in a championship record of 54.41sec: "That was great – I'm really happy with the first 50m. I've not tapered lately. If I had more rest I would have broken the world record. I can break the world record in Sydney," she said after hanging on to win by just
0.04sec over a fast-finishing Martina Moravcova, the US-trained Slovakian's time of 54.45sec a career best. Alshammar split 25.63sec, inside Inge de Bruijn's world record pace and 0.88sec ahead of Moravcova. The two were in a class of their own, defending champion Susan Rolph, of Britain, swimming a slow 56.23sec for seventh 39 minutes after racing the 200m medley semi-final.

Popov's performance did not mirror what he had done in the semi-final on Tuesday, his 48.34sec, the third fastest ever from a swim that sparked with energy and came off a 23.44sec split. In the final, the split was
23.61, the stroke was lower in the water, and the double Olympic champion was content, it seemed, to allow his rivals a fighting chance.

Popov's view of Van de Hoogenband was blocked throughout much of the race by Lars Frolander, of Sweden, in lane 5. The Russian, in lane 4, got
his first glimpse of the Dutchman, in lane 7, with about 15 meters to go as Van den Hoogenband rolled past the Swede and into contention with Popov. The six-times champion of Istanbul 1999 made his move too late and Popov regained the crown he had worn at four previous European championships, starting in Athens 1991. Frolander was third in 49.24sec.

Popov has changed his training programme since the end of last year and said that "it was something we needed to do five years ago, but it just came round now". What the something that needed to be done is we will not hear about until after the Games in Sydney.

Agnes Kovacs, of Hungary, retained the 100m breaststroke crown in 1min 08.38sec, ahead of Sylvia Gerasch, the last competing swimmer from the former East Germany, whose 1:09.28 at 31 years of age compares to the 1:08.11sec in which she won the world title for the GDR in 1986. Third was Svetlana Bondarenko, of the Ukraine, in 1:09.81.

The men's 200m medley title went to Massimiliano Rosolino, of Italy, whose 2mins 00.62sec places him at the top of the world rankings this year. Rosolino split 26.56, 57.70 and 1:32.14. Behind him came Christian Keller of Germany in 2:02.02 and Xavier Marchand, of France, at 2:02.06.

Rosolino said: "I'm extremely happy about the gold and the time. In Sydney I have to make it under 2 minutes to win."

One of the upsets of the day came in the 200m butterfly semi-final, when Denis Pankratov, former world champion and record holder and defending
Olympic champion, led his semi by 5 metres for much of the race but faded to finish at 2mins 00.57sec and out of the final. Anatoli Poliakov and James Hickman lead the qualifiers.

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