Fast Times by US-Trained Swimmers at French Nationals

SAINT ETIENNE, FRANCE, April 13. SOME fast swims by a pair of American-trained male collegians and a world-leading women's 400 free highlighted Day 1 of the French Nationals/World Championship Trials here.

France's Fred Busquets, the sensational Auburn University freshman who won the 50 free at NCAAs just two weeks ago and whose sprinting helped lead the Tigers to the national collegiate championship, set a national record in the semis of the 50 fly with his 24.15. That time ranks third globally in the yearly rankings.

The other U.S. collegian who sparkled was University of Southern California freshman Ous Mellouli, a Tunisian, who won the 400 free in a national record 3:52.34 to France's Nicholas Rostoucher's 3:52.84. (Roustcher has a pr of 3:51.11 from last year's European Championships.)

Mellouli was third at NCAAs in the 500 free, fourth in the 400 IM and fifth in the 1650.

The African 400 free record belongs to former University of Arizona NCAA champ Ryk Neethling, who represents South Africa internationally. He swam a 3:46.31 in the Sydney Olympic Pool during the 1999 Pan-Pac Championships.

Neethling has become a sprinter of late, setting an African record of 49.02 for the 100 free at the South African Nationals/WCTs in Durban last week. He won the finals in 49.52. In the 50 free he finished just .02 behind another former Arizona All-America and NCAA champ Roland Schoeman — 22.44 – 22.46.

The old South African 100 record, which until last year was also thc continental standard, was a 49.44 by Jonty Skinner. Skinner, then a student at the University of Alabama, did his time at the AAU Nationals in Philadelphia in August of 1976, two weeks after America's Jim Montgomery became the first man under 50.0 with his gold medal-winning 49.99 at the Montreal Olympics. Skinner was barred from that competition due to South Africa's then exclusionary racial policies.

In the women's 400 free, Romania's Simone Paduraru raced home first in a world-leading 4:09.86, not far off her pr 4:09.59 that won her the silver at the European Championships in Berlin last August. Chasing her and setting a French record of her own was Laure Manaudou in 4:10.68, No. 2 globally.

The Romanian record is Camelia Potec's European Championship gold medal-winning 4:08.09 from Istanbul four years ago. Potec finished third here (4:11.91).

Potec was runner-up at Berlin in the 200 free, pushing winner Franziska Van Almsick of Germany to the world record with her national record 1:57.80. Van Almsick won in 1:56.48, breaking her own global standard of 1:56.64 from the '94 World Championship in Rome.

(Unlike many other countries, France allows foreign swimmers to compete in its championships, even when a national team berth is on the line, as it is here. Presumably the rationale is that "competition improves the breed.")

Although she didn't final, 13-year-old American Lisa Murray — competing for the prestigious Racing Club of France — won the consols in 4:22.28.

In the semis of the men's 100 breaststroke, French record-holder Hugues Duboscq (1:01.04 to win the bronze at last year's Euros) swam a quick 1:01.65 after a 1:01.86 in the heats. Countryman Johan Bernard was next-fastest with his 1:02.35.

Finland's Jarno Pihlava, who's twice been 1:01.17 qualified for the finals in 1:03.30.

One last foreign swimmer who won this evening was Belarus' Elena Popchenko, fresh from a fine showing at last week's South African Championships. She won one of thesemifinal heats of the 100 fly in 59.19 after speeding a national record 58.82 at Durban, where she was also 25.5 for the 50 free and 55.8 for the 100 free. (Holland's Chantal Groot won the other 100 fly semi in 1:00.50.)

Popchenko was bronze medalist in both the 100-200 frees at Berlin. She swam a national record 54.62 century, fifth-fastest last year and just shy of Slovakia's Martina Moravcova's silver medal time of 54.61. Moravcova is a former NCAA champ for SMU and until this year held the U.S. Open/collegiate 200 yard freestyle record, broken last December by Cal's Natalie Coughlin (1:42.65-1:43.08).

In the 200, her pr/NR 1:57.91 was .11 behind Potec's silver-winning pr/NR 1:57.80 and third globally. Van Almsick's gold medal-winning world record was 1:56.64, breaking her old mark of 1:56.78 from the '94 World Championships in Rome.

The meet continues through Sunday.

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