FINA World Championships, Swimming: Fran Halsall Tops 100 Free Semis

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SHANGHAI, China, July 28. GREAT Britain's Fran Halsall inched ever closer to the textile best in the women's 100 free during semis at the FINA World Long Course Championships.

Halsall checked in with a 53.48 during semifinal qualifying, just missing Britta Steffen's textile best of 53.30 set back in 2006. Halsall, the defending silver medalist, is the favorite to pick up the world title voluntarily abdicated this morning when defending gold medalist Steffen withdrew from the rest of the World Championships citing lack of preparation. Halsall is looking to join Gemma Spofforth and Katy Sexton as British world champions among the women.

The Netherlands' Femke Heemskerk clocked in with a second-seeded time of 53.67. She is looking to medal for the first time individually after winning a world title and a bronze in relay action for her country the past two championships.

"Today was better than yesterday, and I like to be in lane 5," Heemskerk said. "I can swim my lifetime best tomorrow."

Australia's Alicia Coutts qualified third in 53.78, and has yet to medal on the world international stage, but could fill in the void of Libby Trickett's 2009 bronze medal for the Aussies.

"It is difficult to get into the final," Coutts said. "I have a busy schedule, but I know it is going to be tough in the final. I'm happy with my performance today, and I'm really not thinking too much about the final, although I am looking to win."

Denmark's Jeanette Ottesen (53.88), The Netherlands' Ranomi Kromowidjojo (53.94), USA's Dana Vollmer (54.05), USA's Natalie Coughlin (54.05) and Belarus' Aliaksandra Herasimenia (54.26) rounded out the rest of the championship eight qualifiers.

"Natalie and I train together, and we are both in the final, so I am quite happy with that," Vollmer said. "Semis were tough, but I will be stronger tomorrow. The rest of the girls are strong, so I have to pick it up a little."

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