French Nationals Day 3: Hoogie Takes the 200 in 1:47.77

CHAMALIERES, FRANCE, May 2. "KING" Pieter the Great may yet get the 200 free world record back in Fukuoka this July at the IX World Championships. He may also break his own 100 free world record. He even may — nay, almost certainly will — win his first World Championship title. But at the third day of the French spring Nationals-World Championship Trials here today, he didn't set any world records, nor was he even close.

He did win the 200 free in a fine 1:47.77 — just off his seasonal best of 1:47.54 from a month ago — but far from Aussie Ian Thorpe's 1:44.69 global standard from the Aussie World Championships in late March.

However, this is NOT a meet where Hoogie anticipated setting world records. Prior to the competition he told a reporter for the French sports daily L'Equipe that this was "just a training exercise to gauge where I am in my preparations [for Japan]."

And a lack of competition may have also influenced his time in that the runner-up tonight was Frenchman Nicolas Kintz in 1:51.34.

In any event, Hoogie won his second race of the championships, having won the 400 opening day in 3:51.03. His next swim will be the 100 free but he may also go the 50 and 100 flys as he indicated earlier this year that he was "leaning" towards swimming either or both of those events in Japan.

The other men's title went to 18-year-old newcomer Roger Pierre, who went a career-best 56.10 in the 100 back. Second was Simon Dufour (56.66) while third was Dutchman Klaas Zwering in a Dutch national record, 56.70. Dufour's pr is 55.67 leading off his country's medley relay at Sydney and he reached the semis of the 100 race itself, clocking 55.79.

In the semis of the 200 fly, 30-year-old Franck Esposito, showing that, like fine wine, he just gets better with age, clocked a quick 1:57.18 for the third-fastest time of the year. Nos. 1 and 2 belong to Americans Michael Phelps (world record 1:54.92) and Tom Malchow's 1:55.46 — whose 1:55.18 wr Phelps broke at the U.S. World Championship Trials in March.

Esposito is European record-holder off his 1:55.63 at the Monte Carlo stop of the Mare Nostrum Series a year ago, but he was a non-factor at Sydney. Similarly at the last World Championships he was top qualifier (1:56.32) but finished second to the Ukraine's Dennis Sylantyev (1:56.61-1:56.77).

In the 100 fly Esposito is French record holder (52.52 from this meet a year ago) and ranks third on the all-time European list, ironically tied with Sylantyev. First of course is former SMU NCAA champ Lars Frolander of Sweden with his gold medal-winning 52.00 at Sydney. No. 2 is Russia's Dennis Pankratov with a 52.27, good for the gold at the Atlanta Olympics.
Second-fastest qualifier was a mere "youngster," 25-year-old David Abrad, who went 1:59.67.

On the women's side, two finals were held, with 26-year-old Beatrice Coada-Caslaru of Romania winning the 100 breast (NR 1:10.55) and Perth 200 backstroke world champ Roxana Maracineanu winning the 100 (1:02.51).

Maracineanu was fourth at Sydney in an NR 1:01.10 but two of the three athletes who finished ahead of her — Romania's Diana Mocanu (1:00.21 to win) and Spain's Nina Zhivanevskaya (1:00.89) will be swimming at Japan. Only Sydney silver medalist Mai Nakamura (Japan) is not competing this year.

Coada-Caslaru is more noted as an individual medley specialist, and won last year's Euro Championship 200 title in an NR 2:12.57 — and tied that time with her silver medal-winning performance at Sydney. She also splashed to a silver medal in the 400 IM at the Olympics in an NR 4:37.18.

The Romanian star was second-fastest qualifier in the 200 IM here (2:19.20 behind France's Sophie De Ronche's 2:18.10) but, similar to Hoogie, Coada-Caslaru is using the meet as a training competition only.

In the women's 50 free semis Astrid Laine was fastest (26.52) and in the 200 free Solenne Figues — national record-holder in 1:59.67 from Sydney — is No. 1 (2:02.78).

– Bill Bell

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