By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 27. IT wasn't only the United States that was setting world records tonight. In the semifinals of the women's freestyle, Italian Federica Pellegrini whipped up a 1:56.47 effort to break the 1994 standard of Germany's Franziska Van Almsick, which stood at 1:56.64. Pellegrini was in a heat of mind-boggling proportions, as it also included a mark of 1:56.67 from Germany's Annika Lurz.
For as satisfying as her world record felt, she'll have to come back tomorrow and probably deliver a similar performance, if not a faster swim, to snare the gold medal. The third position for the final was secured by Poland's Otylia Jedrzejczak, who managed an effort of 1:57.19. Jedrzejczak won silver in the 400 free earlier in the week.
"It will be a difficult race, but I will just try to swim as I did today, Pellegrini said of the final. "As far as I am concerned I have already won. I do not mean to be snotty with medals, but my dream has always been to be the fastest in the world."
While Pellegrini set a world mark, Katie Hoff won the first semifinal in an American-record time of 1:57.29. That swim lowered the 1:57.41 performance of Lindsay Benko, turned out in 2003. Hoff, who won the 200 individual medley last night, was startled by her time. After glancing at the scoreboard, her jaw dropped in astonishment. Hoff is seeded fourth for the final.
Qualifying fifth with a superb swim of 1:57.30 was France's Laure Manaudou, absolutely a contender for the gold medal tomorrow. Having already raced the 100 backstroke and 1,500 freestyle earlier in the night, Manaudou showed considerable guts in the four-lap race. Expect the champion of the 400 free to push Pellegrini's fresh world record. The final will also include Sweden's Josefin Lillhage (1:57.78), Great Britain's Caitlin McClatchey (1:57.86) and America's Dana Vollmer (1:58.71).