By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 13. MAYBE the United States will have its hands full after all in the women's 800 freestyle relay. Racing in the first of the two preliminary heats, France established an Olympic record and scared the world mark with a clocking of 7:50.37. And that time was clocked without the services of Laure Manaudou.
The French relied on the foursome of Alena Popchanka (1:58.27), Celine Couderc (1:58.92), Camille Muffat (1:57.32) and Coralie Balmy (1:55.86) for their Olympic standard. In the championship final, it's likely that France will substitute in the abilities of Manaudou and Ophelie-Cyrielle Etienne. Manaudou, however, has been struggling through the first half of the competition.
The United States grabbed the second spot by winning their heat in 7:52.43. The Americans went with Caroline Burckle (1:57.86), Christine Marshall (1:58.58), Kim Vandenberg (1:58.31) and Julia Smit (1:57.68). Burckle is the likely pick to join Natalie Coughlin, Katie Hoff and Allison Schmitt in the championship final.
Italy was third in 7:53.38, with Federica Pellegrini anchoring in 1:56.09. China followed in fourth in 7:53.77 and fifth went to Sweden in 7:53.83. Rounding out the field for the final were Australia in 7:55.10, Hungary in 7:55.26 and Japan in 7:55.63. Great Britain was ninth and missed the final, an inexplicable development. With the miss, it missed out on a strong chance at a medal and the chance to use Caitlin McClatchey and Rebecca Adlington in the final.