By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 28. MAYBE this is the year that Jason Lezak grabs that elusive individual gold medal at the World Championships. Looking sharp from start to finish, the veteran American sprinter led qualifying for the championship final of the 100 freestyle. Lezak won the second semifinal in 48.51.
While Lezak has won four medals in relay action during his World Champs visits, he's remained without that piece of individual hardware. Certainly, Lezak looks capable of ending the drought. Earlier in the week, as the anchor of the United States' gold-medal winning 400 freestyle relay, Lezak checked in with a 47-low split.
Qualifying second by winning the first of the semifinals, Italy's Filippo Magnini was clocked in 48.60. The defending champion in the event, Magnini should still be considered the favorite and probably has the best chance of becoming the second man in history to crack the 48-second barrier. He was sensational in the 400 free relay earlier in the week. The only man under, Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, qualified third in 48.72.
"My feeling is that I can still improve," Magnini said. "The 48.60 is not a bad time, but we will see what the others do. I have a headache, but I probably will get better. If I manage to improve, I could to get back to the condition of the relay."
Canadian Brent Hayden and Australian Eamon Sullivan secured the fourth and fifth positions for the final, as they touched in 48.79 and 48.86. There was a three-way tie for sixth, allowing each of the men to race for a medal. Tying at 48.87 were South Africans Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman and Brazil's Cesar Cielo.