Gibson, Sheppard Set Commonwealth Marks at British Nationals

By Craig Lord

MANCHESTER, England, April 13. JAMES Gibson, of the University of Loughborough, established Commonwealth
and European records in the semifinal of the 50m breaststroke at the British championships in Manchester last night, his 27.51 seconds just 0.12sec
outside the world record held by American Ed Moses.

That standard may fall to the 22-year-old in the final today if Gibson, who clocked a Commonwealth record and fastest time in the world this year in the 100m on Friday night, is true to his word. "That was just off what I was looking for," he said. "The swim was technically awful. I'll have to put that right in the final."

There to challenge him for the title, record and a place on the English Commonwealth games squad, will be Darren Mew, 22, of University of Bath, who at 27.58 was also inside Gibson's previous Commonwealth record of 27.71 seconds. The European record had stood to Ukraine's Oleg Lisogor at 27.52 since last year.

The pity of the 50m freestyle was that Alison Sheppard, the Canada-trained Scot, and Therese Alshammar, of Sweden, raced in separate semifinals. Alshammar, making a guest appearance, is not eligible to race in the final proper. In the first semi, the double Olympic medal winner, clocked a lonely 24.97. Julie Douglas was a distant next best on 26.02, a time that represented something of a rarity: an Irish record. You don't get many of those in a nation whose record books are dominated by a certain Michelle Smith (de Bruin) – an inglorious history that one.

Sheppard was up next, and a 24.96 shaved 0.04 off her own Commonwealth record. Sheppard was more delighted with the fact that she had, at last, broken the 25 second barrier. To the backbeat of James Brown's "I
Feel Good", she said: "I feel magic…I've been waiting to do that for such a long time. I'm really happy to do that now – I can be more relaxed in the

Sheppard returned from the World Short Course Championships in Moscow last Monday with two medals, a silver in the 50m freestyle behind Alshammar and a bronze in the 100m medley, behind Martina Moravcova, the US-trained Slovakian.

Moravcova's teammate at SMU in Texas, Georgina Lee, inched nearer to her goal of racing inside 1 minute over 100 metres butterfly when she improved her own British record to retain the title in 1:00.29. The
record had stood at 1:00.37 before the championships but Lee shaved 0.02 seconds off that in the semi-finals on Friday evening.

Delighted to have made the grade for the Commonwalth Games, Lee, 20, was nonetheless exasperated not to have raced inside the minute. "Its just avoiding me," she said. "Its a big mark to overcome…but this sets me up for the Games and it would be great to do it at the Games.

If she was frustrated, imagine the inner turmoil of British sprinters in the 100m freestyle! Twenty six years after Jim Montgomery clocked 49.99sec to become the first man under 50 seconds, Britain still cannot find a man capable of winning the national title in under 50 seconds.

The crown went to Matthew Kidd, now US-trained, in 50.20sec. Kidd has swum under 50 seconds twice, once last year in a British record of 49.78, and once in the semifinals on Friday in 49.99.

"That wasn't quite what I'd planned to do," said Kidd. "It didn't feel good. It just didn't happen for me tonight." Although outside the qualifying time for the Commonwealth Games, Kidd may earn selection for the
relay and be allowed to race the individual event in Manchester in July. Behind him last night were Chris Couzens, of Loughborough University, on 50.50sec, and Adam Ruckwood, of Birmingham, on 50.56sec.

There was no immediate English qualifier for the 400m medley, Robin Francis's winning time of 4mins 21.27sec well down on his British record and well outside the qualifying time needed. Francis, of University of bath, won the silver medal at the European Short Course Championships in Antwerp in December, and has just come off a period of very heavy training. Only selection for the Games will allow anyone to see the results of that training this summer, given that Britain cannot compete at the European championships in Berlin, to be held in the same week as the
Commonwealth Games.

Rebecca Cooke, of Reading and now training in Glasgow, comfortably retained her 800m freestyle title
8:35.75, with those who followed her home, Nathalie Brown, of Southend, and Caroline Saxby, of Durham, also
inside the time needed to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, Brown on 8:43.42 and Saxby just 0.01sec within selection criteria at 8:45.85.

Sarah Price, of Barnet, set the third British record of the session when she qualified fastest for today's final of the 50m backstroke in 29.26 seconds, 0.07sec inside her previous best. The power of speech not
entirely her friend on this rare occasion, Price said, somewhat confusingly: "Hopefully I'll be really really strong in the final. That's my strength – power not speed. I forget how much power I have and I have to
remember to use it."

Gregor Tait, of Glasgow, was the fastest qualifier for the final of the 100m backstroke in 56.46sec, with Martin Harris, the Commonwealth champion from 1994, second on 57.08 seconds, well down on his lifetime best of 55.0sec but not at all bad for a 32-year-old who has been back in training for just eight weeks after a two-year break from the sport.

Manchester-born but Leeds-trained James Hickman, who in Moscow became the only swimmer ever to win the same world title four times in succession, qualified fastest for the final of the 100m butterfly in 53.18, just shy of his 52.87 British record, set in 1999. Stephen Parry, racing in his home pool, will be next to him the final, courtesy of a 54.58 second effort in
the 100m butterfly.

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