By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 24. ONE of the best rivalries in the sport will be renewed tomorrow night when Japan's Kosuke Kitajima and the United States' Brendan Hansen square off in the final of the 100 breaststroke. As an appetizer, the men battled in the second semifinal, with Kitajima eking out a 1:00.05 to 1:00.13 victory.
But, the gold medal will not be determined until this evening and look for Hansen to deliver his best showing. After clocking 59.96 in the morning, Kitajima slowed slightly at night en route to the No. 1 spot for the championship heat. As for Hansen, he got quicker and says he's continuing to find his groove. Hansen dropped from a prelim swim of 1:00.59.
"It didn't feel like a 1:00.1," Hansen said. "But it's not about the time right now. I feel like I'm getting better with each swim and tomorrow is looking good. I wasn't racing against anyone. Tomorrow, I'm going to go out and try to feed off the crowd."
Kitajima and Hansen have plenty of experience racing against one another, dating to the 2001 World Champs in Fukuoka, Japan. Both men have held the world record in the 100 and 200 distances, with Hansen owning the current marks of 59.13 and 2:08.50. Hansen is the defending world champ in both events and Kitajima is the reigning Olympic champ in each discipline.
Like the 50 butterfly, this event appears to be a two-man race, with the rest of the competition chasing the bronze medal. Qualifying in the third spot was Norway's Alexander Dale Oen in 1:00.69, ahead of the 1:00.87 of Australia's Brenton Rickard. The Ukraine went fifth and sixth with Valeriy Dymo (1:00.88) and Oleg Lisogor (1:00.99). Mike Alexandrov (Bulgaria) was seventh in 1:01.08 and Dmitry Kormornikov (Russia) was eighth in 1:01.11.