By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 14. TWENTY-two low just doesn't cut it anymore. The best sprinters in the world lined up for the preliminaries of the 50 freestyle and 10 of the 16 semifinal qualifiers registered a clocking under the 22-second barrier, including Amaury Leveaux. The Frenchman established an Olympic record of 21.46 by winning the 12th of 13 heats.
Leveaux, a member of France's silver-medal winning 400 freestyle relay, knocked one hundredth of a second off the Olympic record set by Brazil's Cesar Cielo in the preceding heat. When Cielo took the blocks, the Olympic standard stood at 21.91, a performance produced by Alex Popov at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
American Ben Wildman-Tobriner and Sweden's Stefan Nystrand followed in the third position with matching times of 21.75, just ahead of the 21.76 mark registered by 2005 world champion Roland Schoeman. Next in the pecking order was Trinidad & Tobago's George Bovell, the 2004 bronze medalist in the 200 individual medley who has emerged as an elite sprinter. Bovell was timed in 21.77.
Frenchman Alain Bernard and Australian Eamon Sullivan, the gold and silver medalists in the 100 freestyle, notched times of 21.78 and 21.79 while advancing to the semifinal round. Sullivan owns the world record at 21.28, giving him favorite status in the event. Also dipping under 22 seconds were American Garrett Weber-Gale (21.95) and Germany's Rafed El-Masri (21.96).
Brazilian Nicholas Santos checked in at 22.00 and Croatian Duje Draganja, the silver medalist in Athens, was timed in 22.05. Also qualifying for the semifinals were Australia's Ashley Callus (22.11), Hungary's Krisztian Takacs (22.14), Poland's Bart Kizierowski (22.15) and South Africa Gideon Louw (22.17).