By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 30. IN the absence of the man who has owned the event for the past few years, Japan's Kosuke Kitajima came through for a gold-medal performance in the 200 breaststroke. Complementing the title he won in 2003, Kitajima led from the start and turned in a time of 2:09.80. Kitajima was on world-record pace for much of the race, but couldn't keep up down the stretch to better the 2:08.50 of Brendan Hansen.
Hampered by a virus, Hansen was forced to withdraw before the preliminaries and didn't get the chance to defend his crown or chase his own world record. The American, however, is feeling much improved and is hopeful to be on the United States' 400 medley relay when the event is held on Sunday. Hansen is part of the world-record squad.
Kitajima split 28.82 at the 50 and made the 100 turn in 1:01.87 before hitting the 150 mark at 1:35.29. His steam slowed slightly in the final lap, where Hansen blistered when he set his world record at last year's Pan Pacific Championships. The silver medal was won by Australia's Brenton Rickard, much to the delight of the crowd. Rickard touched in 2:10.99 to edge Italy's Loris Facci, the bronze medalist in 2:11.03. Italian Paolo Bossini was fourth with a mark of 2:11.38 and American Eric Shanteau took fifth in 2:11.50.
"I tried to use my natural speed and take it out, and hang on," Rickard said. "It is a long last 50. I had zero left in the last 10 meters. I struggled to get out of the pool (after the race). But that is what we love, to get involved in it all."