SAINT ETIENNE, France, April 17. SOMEDAY, someplace Pieter van den Hoogenband is going to lose a 100 meter freestyle race.
It happens. In fact, it did happen two years ago at the World Championships in Fukuoka, when University of California sophomore Anthony Ervin took the measure of the Dutchman — the world record-holder — in both the 50 and 100 freestyle races.
That was then.
This evening in the 100 finals on Day Five of the French Championships, Hoogie was not to be denied. After leading qualifying with a 49.19, he blasted to a 48.96 victory in the finals, No. 2 behind Australia's Ashley Callus on the world list for 2003.
However, Hoogie won't be able to rest on his laurels as he has the Dutch World Championship Trials coming up the end of this month.
Runner-up was Algeria's Salim Iles in a seasonal-best 49.20, just two tenths off his African record from last year; and third was Auburn freshman Fred Bousquet (49.36). He was 49.27 in the semis. Fourth in a pr 49.90 was Frenchman Julien Sicot and fifth in 49.94 was former Auburn All-American Romain Barnier.
While van den Hoogenband's victory was not unexpected, what was rather unexpected (except to those who attended last month's men's NCAAS) were the results of the semifinals in the men's 200 individual medley. Here University of Southern California rookie Ous Mellouli — who represents Tunisia internationally — set an African record in the semis with his pr 2:01.50 to emerge as top qualifier. The old standard was a 2:01.94 by South Africa's Terence Parkin from the Olympic Trials in 2000.
Mellouli had never been under 2:04.0 before this evening. If he wins, it will give him his second gold of the meet. Opening night he won the 400 free in a national record 3:52.77. His IM time ranks him
third globally behind Italy's Massi Rosolino (1:59.94 from the Australian Championships last month) and Ian Thorpe's Commonwealth record 2:00.11 from the same meet.
(Unlike France, which allows foreign swimmers to compete in the finals of its European and/or World Championship Trials meets, Australia allows non-citizens only to swim in the heats and, where applicable, the semifinals. It was in a semifinal that Rosolino swam his world-leading 200 IM.)
In the finals, Mellouli will be going against 29-year-old veteran Frenchman Xavier Marchand whose national record of 2:01.08 was swum in the finals ot the 1997 European Championships at Seville.
Third-quickest was Romania's Cesar Badita, who clocked 2:02.48. Badita, who was suspended from competition for two years after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, is the Romanian record-holder (2:02.08) from the Sydney semis.
Another Romanian, backstroker Razvan Florea, was the top qualifier in the 200 with a 1:59.22 — not far off his NR 1:59.05 from Sydney. France's Simon Dufour, who went an NR 1:58.88 at this meet last year, won the other semi (1:59.55).
The final men's race, the 200 breast, saw Yohan Bernard win the gold in 2:13.61 with Hugues Duboscq next (2:14.47). The latter, who won the 100 breast, did a pr 2:13.83 in the semis. Bernard is the French record-holder with his 2:11.77
In the women's races, Denmark's Louise Ornstedt won the 50 back in 28.88, off her 28.63 NR from the semis. That time ranks her sixth on the all-time performers' list (15th performance). Belarus' Alexandra Herasimena (29.10) was second and France's Laure Manaudou, who swam an NR in the semis (29.02), finished third in 29.39.
The 200 fly went to Aurore Mongel (2:13.52).
In the semis of the 100 free, Belarus' Elena Popchenka, already a double-winner (100 fly, 200 free), is looksing like an excellent bet to make it three-for-three. She's top qualifier (54.64), not far off her national record of 54.62 from last year's European Championships.
Holland's Inge deBruijn, who'll see her first taste of action next week, holds the world and Olympic records with her 53.77 from the Sydney semis. Only one other woman — the USA's Natalie Coughlin — has cracked 54 seconds. Natalie swam her American record 53.99 at last year's Pan Pacs.