By Fred Vergnoux
DUNQUERQUE, France, April 20. ON the third day of the French Nationals and Olympic Trials at Dunkerque, Laure Manaudou clocked new French records in the 100 backstroke in 1.00.64 and the 200 IM in 2.15.65. That was Surprise #1, and it was good.
Surprise #2 came when the President of the French Federation, Francis Luyce, made this shocking anouncement to the press: "Franck Esposito has been ill for three days and will not compete tonight in the semifinal (of the 200 fly). We all hope that Franck will get better to race the 100 fly”.
Esposito's withdrawal dealt a major blow to French medal expectations. The 34 year-old is the secnd-fastest man in history behind only Michael Phelps.
Here is how tonight's events went:
Men's 200m freestyle (final)
The young swimmer from Mulhouse, Amaury Leveaux, won in 1.50.05 but was far from his prelim time of 1.49.19. Romain Barnier came second in 1.50.52, also far from his French record of 1.48.80 set in 2002 in Berlin. Third was distance swimmer Nicolas Rostoucher, also from Mulhouse, in 1.50.59. No swimmer made the Olympic standard in this event.
Women's 100m backstroke (final)
Laure Manaudou swam a new French record tonight during the 100 backstroke final. Leading from begining to finish, the swimmer from Melun posted the best time in the world thus far this year, 1.00.64. Second place was for Britain's Sarah Price in 1.01.77, and third for her teammate Katy Sexton in 1.01.89. Manaudou and Putra (second French swimmer but fourth in the final) confirmed their spots for Athens in this event.
Men's 100m backstroke (final)
Gregor Tait from Great Britain celebrated his 25th birthday winning in 55.27 ahead of Simon Dufour of Montpellier in 55.69, and Pierre Roger of Toulouse with 55.98. With his medal tonight, Roger is officialy on the road to Athens. Dufour, bronze in Barcelona last summer will compete in his main event, the 200 back, on Thursday.
Women's 100m breaststroke (final)
Anne-Sophie Le Paranthoen of CS Clichy 92 did not manage to improved her 1.10.70 set in prelims. She swam fast enough to get a spot on the French relay for the European Champs, but was too slow to qualify for the Olympic Games. She finished third in 1.11.25. Laurie Thomassin was second in 1.11.08. Britain's Kirsty Balfour won in 1.10.23, a new meet record.
During the women's 200m freestyle semifinals, Melanie Marshall posted a fast 1.58.71, ahead of Solenne Figues 1.59.23, Claudia Poll 2.00.71, and Alena Popchanka 2.00.79. Only French swimmers will race in the final. Figues needs to finish among the top two to confirm her ticket for Athens.
Manaudou posted her third French record in the 200 IM when she went 2.15.63. For the final tomorrow, the French ‘hope’ will have to count on Belarussian Hanna Shcherba of CS Clichy 92 who posted a strong 2.14.62.
The French team clinched two more visaas for Athens today, with Pierre Roger and Alexandra Putra in the 100 backstroke, both from Toulouse. Manaudou gets a spot in the 100 backstroke with her new record. “The 100 backsroke and the 400 freestyle are on the same day in Athens,” said coach Lucas from Melun, “Laure will race the 400 for the win.”
MEN 200 FREESTYLE FINAL
1. LEVEAUX Amaury 1985 FRA MULHOUSE ON 1:50.05 +0.78
2. BARNIER Romain 1976 FRA CN ANTIBES 1:50.52 +0.76
3. ROSTOUCHER Nicolas 1981 FRA MULHOUSE ON 1:50.59 +0.83
MEN 100 BACKSTROKE FINAL
1. MANAUDOU Laure 1986 FRA CN MELUN-DAMMARIE 1:00.64 +0.72
2. PRICE Sarah 1979 GBR GRANDE BRETAGNE 1:01.77 +0.63
3. SEXTON Katy 1982 GBR GRANDE BRETAGNE 1:01.89 +0.75
MEN 100 BACKSTROKE FINAL
1. TAIT Gregor 1979 GBR GRANDE BRETAGNE 55.27 +0.74
2. DUFOUR Simon 1979 FRA MONTPELLIER AGGLO UC 55.69 +0.70
3. ROGER Pierre 1983 FRA DAUPHINS TOULOUSE OEC 55.98 +0.72
WOMEN 100 BREASTSTROKE FINAL
1. BALFOUR Kirsty 1984 GBR GRANDE BRETAGNE 1:10.24 +0.85
2. THOMASSIN Laurie 1986 FRA CN CARPENTRAS 1:11.08 +0.84
3. LE PARANTHOEN Anne Sophie 1977 FRA CS CLICHY 92 1:11.25 +0.78