By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 24. IN the morning, Ian Crocker hammered out the fastest time. At night, it was Roland Schoeman who made the biggest noise. Perhaps it was fitting that they traded shots, for it's a two-man battle for gold in the 50 butterfly. That's the way it was in Montreal in 2005 and that's the way it should play out tomorrow for the final here in Melbourne.
Schoeman, the world-record holder and defending champ, was fastest to the wall in the one-lap sprint, as he turned in a mark of 23.18. The South African holds the global standard at 22.96 and it could take another sub-23 performance if another title is in the works. That's because Crocker and his blazing speed are right behind in 23.42, after going 23.30 in the morning.
Schoeman, with the 50 free, and Crocker, with the 100 fly, have bigger things ahead this week, but starting off with a title in the sprint would be a nice boost. Lost in the shuffle of the aforementioned showdown was the Ukraine's Sergiy Breus touching third in 23.53 and Albert Subirats (Venezuela) snagging fourth place in qualifying in 23.59. Look for Subirats to make a serious run at the bronze, for he's obviously still hot from his efforts at the NCAA Championships for the University of Arizona.
"I think I am just trying to experiment with different types of strokes," Crocker said. "Tomorrow I will hopefully hit it full on after looking at the tapes tonight."
Also reaching the final were Sweden's Lars Frolander, now in his 30s and a longtime staple on the international scene. Frolander was timed in 23.82 and followed by Slovenia's Peter Mankoc in 23.91. The seventh position was taken by Serbia's Michael Cavic in 23.94 and the eighth spot was shared by Denmark's Jakob Andkjaer and South Africa's Lyndon Ferns in 23.99. A swimoff was to determine the eighth finalist.