By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 13. JUST one race separates Japan's Kosuke Kitajima from making history in the 200 breaststroke. The gold medalist in the 100 and 200 breast events in Athens and the 100 breast champ in Beijing, Kitajima established an Olympic record in the semifinals of the 200 breast, clocking in at 2:08.61.
The world-record holder with a time of 2:07.51, Kitakima looked comfortable throughout his semifinal, hovering around his global-standard pace for the first three laps. Down the last lap, Kitajima eased off the accelerator, opting to wait for the championship final to push his standard, and maybe event generate a mark in the 2:06-range.
Canadian Mike Brown, en route to a national record, grabbed the second qualifying spot for the final. Brown checked in with a time of 2:08.84, a bit faster than the personal best turned in by Scott Spann. The American, who prevailed at the U.S. Trials, touched the wall in 2:09.08 to throw his name into the medal equation.
Australian Brenton Rickard, the silver medalist at last year's World Championships, was fourth in 2:09.72 and Hungary's Daniel Gyurta, the silver medalist in Athens as a 15-year-old, checked in with the fifth-fastest qualifying performance, an effort of 2:09.73. Gyurta had been 2:08.68 during the preliminaries.
The Italian tandem of Loris Facci (2:09.75) and Paolo Bossini (2:09.95) qualified sixth and seventh, but both men were faster in the prelim round. Collecting the final spot for the final was Frenchman Hugues Duboscq in 2:09.95. Duboscq was the bronze medalist in the 100 breast earlier in the Beijing Games.