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Franck Esposito, 33, Blazes 1:56 for 200m Fly; Laure Manodou sets French Record in the 1500 to Highlight Vittel Cup -- June 26, 2004

MULHOUSE, France, June 26. THIRTY-THREE year-old French butterfly specialist Franck Esposito -- the 2002 European Champion (1:55.18) -- may be nearing the end of his career but it would seem the older he gets the faster he becomes.

The veteran French record-holder in both flys (his 100 meter NR is 52.49 from the World Champioinships last summer) went a seasonal-best 1:56.92 in the Vittel Cup finals here today, seventh on the yearly performers' list.

Esposito's pr/NR and Ejuropean record is 1:54.62 from the meet that selected the European Championship squad a couple of years ago. That swim was then the No. 2 performance of all-time behind American Michael Phelps' wr 1:54.58 that won the gold at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka.

Since then Phelps has lowered the mark to 1:53.93 (Barcelona last summer) and also has the No. 2 performance with a 1:54.35.

Esposito failed to medal at the 2003 World Championships and many observers felt that, at 32, his career was finished.

"I never believed I was done," he told the French sports daily L'Equipe. "I feel strong, I am swimming well and am looking forward to Athens."

Freestyler Laure Manodou set a French national record in the 1500 free with her 16:28.66, eighth globally for 2004. She also ranks fourth in the 800 free (8:31.21) and ninth in the 400 (4:09.29), both French records set at the Olympic Trials in April at Dunkerque.

However, it's in the 100 back where she really shines, ranking No. 1 globally with her NR 1:00.64, not far off the European Record of 1:00.18 by Romania's Diana Mocanu that won her the gold at Sydney.

Two breaststrokers went prs with Christophe Richard clocking 2:15.92 and Julien Nicolardot close behind at 2:16.06.

The meet concludes Sunday and the opening day for swimming at Athens is a mere 49 days away.