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Van Almsick Makes Dramatic Return at German Nationals -- May 24, 2002

WARENDORF, GERMANY, May 23. OLDIES but goodies have dominated the first two days of the German Nationals/ European Champonship Trials here yesterday (May 22)
and today (May 23), as the countdown to opening day of the European Championships in Berlin July 25 continues.

Only one national record (women's 50 fly) and no European or world standards have been set, but the swimming has been of a fairly high caliber.

The biggest news came today (Thursday) when world 200 free record-holder Franziska van Almsick showed her heels to the field in the 100 free, winning in 55.25 to Petra Dallman's pr 55.34. In the prelims, Van Almsick was even faster (55.19), which is the continent's second-fastest time in 2002 behind
Belarus' Elena Poptchenko's 54.95 from last month's French Championships/EC Trials.

Van Almsick's pr is 54.57 from the 1993 European Championships in Sheffield, the year before she set her wr in the 200 free at the World Championships in
Rome -- a mark that continues to this day. Her time today is her fastest century in several years.

Since the early '90s it's been one thing after another for the German star who, at one point, rivaled now-retired tennis queen Steffi Graf for her the
sporting public's affection. Injuries, failed romantic liasons, more comebacks than Mike Tyson and a "shocking" loss at the Atlantic Olympic six years ago to Costa Rica's Claudia Poll have all contributed to her lack of international success -- let alone record-setting performances -- in the last eight years.

Through it all the 24-year-old Van Almsick has persevered and if she can stay healthy and focused she has the potential to make things quite interesting at Berlin for the continent's leading ladies -- including treble Olympic champ Inge de Bruijn.

Van Almsick's time ranks her third globally behind a China's Yanwei Xu's list-leading 54.82 and Poptchenko. Then comes Germany's Sandra Volker with
her 55.26 from today's prelims (she went 55.58 at night), Inky's 55.27 from a meet in Holland last month, and Dallman.

Other women's winners today included Daniela Samulski in the 50 butterfly (NR 27.25 to topple her 27.27 from the Olympic Trials two years ago), Simone Weiler's pr 31.89 for the 50 breast, surpassing her 32.05 from the Trials; Nicole Hetzer's 4:45.27 400 IM and Van Almsick's 100 free.

In the two-lap sprint third-place went to another
"graybeard," 29-year-old Katrin Meissner (55.56) with 28-year-old Volker next (55.58). Put that foursome together when they're ready to roll and you've got the makings of a pretty good 400 free relay squad -- not to mention a squad capable of smashing the Masters world record in the youngest Masters age group.

Hetzer's IM pr is 4:41.55 from last year's World Championship Trials, which in turn was just off Annika Melhorn's NR of 4:41.11 that won that race. Melhorn was not among the Top 8 finalists tonight.

On the men's side, Stefan Herbst won the 200 free (1:50.24) with newcomer Moritz Zimmer second (1:50.27). Jochen Hanz was an easy winner in the 400 IM (pr 4:21.98) with Jan Wolfgarten (4:24.64) next.

Opening day saw Heiko Hell win the 800 free (8:09.55, far from his pr 7:59.97 at Fukuoka); Stephan Kunzelmann the 50 free (23.00) to Carsten Dehmlow's 23.01 and Benjamin Friedrich's 23.05; Volker the 50 free (25.49) with Meissner next (25.63) and Van Almsick third (25.77).

Jens Kruppa, 26, was 100 breast champ (1:01.90) and South African Sarah Poewe won the women's race (1:09.78 to Weiler's 1:09.80). Newcomer Ernest
Fahrland (21) was victorious in the 200 back (pr 2:00.93); and 30-year-old Christian Keller was tops in the 200 fly (1:59.99).

Mile honors went to 29-year-old Jana Henke (16:35.38).
Her pr is 16:22.41 from the Trials last year while the '01 world-leader -- Hanna Stockbauer, who won at Fukuoka in a European-record 16:01.02 -- did not swim.

Kunzelman's 50 free pr is 22.90 from the Olympic Trials in '00 while Torsten Spanneberg, who was second-fastest qualifier but not among the Top 3 finalists, has a pr of 22.62 from the '95 GER Euro Championship Trials. So he's another veteran who's been up and down the pool a lap or two. Dehmlow's pr is 22.54 from the '00 Trials.

Volker is the German record-holder in the 50 free with her 24.72 from last year's WCTs. She finioshed third at Fukuoka (24.96).

Kruppa's winning 100 breast swim is not far off his pr of 1:01.79 from the '98 Goodwill Games on Long Island and is among the Top 10 fastest for the year. Second was 18-year-old Phillipp Cool (pr 1:02.78) while third was 32-year old medical student and race car driver Mark Warnecke (1:02.93). He holds the German record with his 1:01.33 from the Atlanta finals.

Poewe got to compete by virtue of her father's German citizenship. However, her big meet this summer will be the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, scheduled for almost the same time as the European Championships.

Weiler's second-place 1:09.80 is her pr, surpassing her old career-best of 1:09.85 from the Sydney prelims.

Keller's fly time is not quite as good as his pr 1:59.47 from the '99 European Championship Trials, but not bad for a 30-year-old. His 100 fly pr is a 53.55 from the '00 Olympic Trials and he holds his country's NR in the 200 IM with his 2:01.06 from the '93 ECTs.

-- Bill Bell