SAINT ETIENNE, France, April 18. ONE of the oldest sayings in swimming goes something like this: "It's not what you do in qualifying that counts; it's what you do in the finals."
Tunisia's Ous Mellouli, a freshman at USC who was top qualifier Thursday in the 200 IM with an African record 2:01.50 — third-best globally for the year — found out the hard way tonight the truth of that tired old maxim.
In the finals against the second-fastest qualifier, 29-year-old Xavier Marchand, the French national record-holder, Mellouli lost by the closest of margins, 2:02.89 – 2:02.90, with Romania's Cezar Badita ((2:03.03) taking the bronze.
"My congratulations to Xavier, he was the better swimmer tonight," Mellouli is quoted as saying in the French sports daily L'Equipe. "I had hoped to swim faster but it was a tactical race and it just wasn't to be. However, I think I learned a good lesson and I hope to do apply it at the World Championships. That is where my preparation, my focus lies. I would like to swim in the finals in both medley events but I know there are many great swimmers whose aim it is to do likewise. I have a lot of work ahead of me."
France got another impressive victory in the men's 800 free where record-holder Nicolas Rostoucher knocked more than six seconds off the nstional record he set in Fukuoka with his winning 7:56.79. Rostoucher also holds the French mile record (15:11+ from the Euro Championship Trials in Chalon a year ago), and he'll get a crack at that standard on the meet's final day, Sunday.
In the men's 200 back, Romania's Razvan Florea finally cracked the 1:59 barrier with his national record-winning 1:58.82 over France's Simon Dufour (2:00.71) and Holland's Klaas Zwering (2:01.28). Dufour holds his country's record with a 1:58.88 from last year.
In men's semifinal actiion, Algeria's Salim Iles — who trains regularly with one of the country's top teams, Racing Club of France and whose national record is 22.33 — led the way with his 22.45.
Next was Frenchman Julien Sicot in a pr 22.55 from the prelims (22.62 to win the other semi). Sicot is having a fine championships, breaking the 50 second barrier in the 100 free with his 49.90, and now cutting a tenth off his 50 pr, which had been 22.67.
The French record is 22.39 by now-retired Christophe Kalfayan from the '93 Euros at Sheffield.
Other finalists include 100-200 free gold-medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband (22.66sf) and his teammate Johan Kenkhuis (22.82sf), Fred Bousquet (22.99sf), and Belarus' Pavel Lagoun (pr 22.83). He'll be after the Belarus record of 22.77 Saturday.
In the 100 fly, 32-year-old "youngster" Franck Esposito, showing no ill effects from his 1:54.70 200 fly win two days ago — history's third-quickest performance — was top qualifier with his 52.55, .03 off his national record from three years ago.
Lagoun was next with a national record 52.95, breaking his old standard of 54.03 from last year's Euros in Berlin. Third was Holland's Joris Keizer (53.45) with Great Britain's James Hickman also making the finals with a 53.80.
Belarus' Elena Popchenka, to no one's surprise, won the 100 free, though her 54.94 was three-tenths slower than her 54.64 from the semis. Teammate Hanna Shcherba was next(55.99) with France's Malia Matella (56.16) winning the bronze. She went a pr 56.01 in the semis.
Denmark's Louise Ornstedt, aiming for her third gold, was leading qualifier in the 200 back (2:11.81). She's already won the 50-100 dorsal races. In the 50 fly Holland's Chantal Groot, runner-up to Popchenka in
the 100, was top qualfier with her 26.99 in the semis. Popchenko (27.44) won the other semi.
The 200 breast title went to Romania's Beatrice Caslaru (2:30.28). She's been 2:25.9 and she also won the 200 IM earlier in the week.
After six days of swimming the biggest news of course is Esposito's 200 fly but Popchenka has turned in some fine swims after having raced hard in South Africa just two week ago. She's got three golds already and has a good shot at going five-for-five by winning the 50 fly and 50 frees later on.
Mellouli, with a gold and a silver and the 400 IM yet to come, has swum very well. Rostoucher's 800 swim tonight was a breakthrough, but he'll need to get under 7:52 to be competitive on the world scene.
Ornstedt is having the meet of her life but at Barcelona she'll have a little stiffer competition, particularly from America's Natalie Coughlin (WR-holder in the 100 and world-leader last year in the 200, though she may pass on the longer race in Barcelona); Spain's Nina Zhivanevskaya (50-100 certainly), Romania's Diana Mocanu, Sydney double gold-medalist; Japan's Mai Nakamura and Great Britain's Sarah Price and Katy Sexton, current world 100-200 leader with her Commonwealth records 1:00.47-2:09.27 from last month's British Trials.