ROME, May 31. France's Franck Esposito sent a message loud and clear, from the Italian peninsula and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, addressed to one Thomas Malchow in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The message: Don't start counting any chickens in Sydney yet, baby. You've got yourself a battle.
Swimming on the second day of competition at the Mare Nostrum meet in Rome, the French veteran set a national record in the 200 meter butterfly with the third fastest time in history: 1:55.63. The Frenchman's time was five-hundredths of a second faster than Malchow's 1:55.68 swum three days earlier at the Cadillac Challenge meet in Michigan.
Despite his super-fast time, Esposito had to scramble just to win the race as Ukraine's Denis Silantiev was right on his heels in 1:56.69. Australia's Greg Shaw was third in a strong 1:58.70.
Russia's Alexandre Popov keeps getting a little faster each time he swims. Tonight the Russian Rocket sprinted to an easy win in the 50m freestyle in 22.36. The USA's Bill Pilczuk, the 1998 world champion, was tenth (23.72).
The other men's races were fast as well. Romania's Coman Dragos took the 400m free in 3:51.13, two seconds ahead of Italy's Emiliano Brembilla and Massi Rosolino. Home town boy Domenico Fioravanti won the 200 breast in 2:15.84, while Ukraine's Vlad Nikolaychuk carved out a two-second victory in winning the 200m back in 1:59.93.
Camelia Potec made it a Romanian sweep in the 400 free, winning the women's race in 4:10.50, just ahead of Costa Rica's Claudia Poll, whose 4:10.86 shows she rounding into competitive shape.
South Africa's Manyd Loots took the 200m fly in 2:12.08, edging Germany's Franzi Van Almsick (2:12.34), who rarely swims the event.
World champion Roxana Maracineanu of France breezed to a three-second win in the 200m back (2:12.61), while her countrywoman, Karine Bremond struck gold in the 200m breaststroke (2:29.81).