SAINT ETIENNE, France, April 15. A host of national records — including a pair of 1500 meter freestyle marks by Romania's Sylvia Paduraru and France's Laure Manaudou — highlighted the third day of competition at the French Championships in St. Etienne.
The 17-year-old Manaudou, last year's European Junior champion in the 100 back, swam a tough double tonight and came up with a a pair silvers for her efforts.
She began the competition by pushing Paduraru to a Romanian national recordR 16:29.32 1500 while clocking a French national record in the runner-up spot. Then in the 100 back she took second to Denmark's Louise Ornstedt, with the winner clocking a Danish national record and Manaudau going a pr 1:01.68.
The French record is 1:01.10 by Roxana Marcineanu from Sydney.
Ornstedt in turn has thrice broken the Danish 100 back standard here with her 1:01.47 in the heats and the 1:01.42 in the semis. Her winning time ranks her fourth globally this year.
Englishwoman Katy Sexton heads the rankings with her Commonwealth record 1:00.47 from the British trials at Shefield last month, where teammate Sarah Price also went a pr 1:00.77. Coughlin, world record-holder (59.58 from the U.S. Nationals last August) splits the duo with her 1:00.74 from the Australian dual meet, then comes Ornstedt.
The world-leader in the 1500 is Switzerland's Flavia Rigamonti, who swam a 16:08.30 to win the U.S. Nationals earlier this month in Indianapolis. A sophomore at Southern Methodist University, Rigamonti has won the NCAA 500-1650 yard freestyles the past two seasons. At this year's Western Athletic Conference Championships, she swam the second-fastest 1650 in history, coming within a second and-a-half of Janet Evans' 13-year-old American/NCAA record (15:39.14 -15:40.41).
Rigamonti's pr/NR for the 1500 is 16:05.99, which earned her the silver at the World Championships in Fukuoka. She'll be among the favorites — if not THE favorite — this summer in Barcelona.
In the semis of the women's 200 free, Frenchwoman Solenne Figues won her heat in a national record 1:59.33, breaking her old standard of 1:59.63 from the finals of last summer's European Championships. The other semis winner was 100 fly champ Elana Popchenka of Belarus, who did a 2:00.47 with Romania's Camelia Potec next (2:00.69). Popchenka holds her national record at 1:57.91 and Potec has been 1:57.80 so the potential for a fast finals tomorrow is definitely there.
Anne-Sophie Le Paranthoen, French record-holder in the 100 breast (1:10.03), won in 1:10.55 after a 1:10.25 semis. Second was Denmark's Majek Thirup (1:10.99).
* * * * *
The men's 200 free was also this evening and Holland's defending Olympic champ Peter van den Hoogenband was top qualifier (1:47.33). However, Hoogie wasn't in world-record form tonight as he cruised to a 1:47.46 win, the only sub-1:50.0 of the field.
He'll have another chance to imrpvoe upon his seasonal best of 1:46.78 next week at the Dutch Nationals/
WCTs, He's also expected to give Thorpe, Hackett and Rosolino (and Klete Keller?) a battle for the gold at Barcelona, where the Aussie world record-holder is defending champ.
The men's 100 back saw French record-holder Roger Pierre (54.89) win in a modest 55.74 with Simon Dufour (55.98) next.
In the men's 200 fly semis, former Commonwealth champ James Hickman of Great Britain won his heat in 1:59.71; and France's European record-holder, 32-year-old Franck Esposito, went a very fast 1:56.41 in his semi, third globally for 2003.
Esposito set a European record (1:54.62) at last year's French Euro Trials in Chalon, precisely 368 days. His time, which led the world for 2002, is a mere .04 off America's Michael Phelps' 1:54.58 global standard from the World Championshisps the previous year — when Phelps was barely 16.
Esposito then won the Euro title with a 1:55.18, which is .01 slower than Phelps' world-leading 1:55.17 from the Duel in the Pool a week and-a-half ago. American Tom Malchow, Olympic gold-medalist and former wr-holder, ranks second for 2003 with his 1:55.24, also from the Aussie dual meet.
After tying Malchow for the top spot in the semis at the World Championships with his then Euro-record 1:55.03, Esposito finsihed a disappointing fourth in the finals (1:55.71). Russia's Anatoliy Poliakov's 1:55.68 won the bronze with Phelps and Malchow going 1-2.
Esposito rectified that loss with his gold at Berlin last August but he's still looking for his first World Championship gold. If he wins he'll be the oldest World Championships gold medalist unless, of course, Russia's Alexander Popov, world record-holder in the 50 free, wins a gold himself as he is 32 as well. (Hungary's Karoly Guttler, still active at 35, is likely the oldest active European international competitor. But as great a breaststroker as he is — and despite his ranking 12th in the world last year — he's no longer considcered a likely medal-contender.)
Hickman, 27, has a pr of 1:57.13 that won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur five years ago. He ranks second all-time on the British list to former Florida State All-America Stephan Parry, who went a 1:56.34 — then a Commonweatlh record — at the U.S. Nationals in Federal Way in the spring of '00. The record has since been cut to 1:56.17 by Australia's Justin Norris from the last Olympics.