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World Champs: Wide Open Women's Race in 400 Free; Aussies Look Untouchable in 400 Free Relay -- July 24, 2005

By Phillip Whitten

MONTREAL, Canada, July 25. PREVIEWS of Sunday night's women's finals from the 11th edition of the World Championships.

Women's 400-meter Freestyle

While the men's 400 free prelims produced the day's biggest shock -- with Michael Phelps failing even to qualify -- the women's race produced a few surprises of its own.

Perhaps inspired by the superb performance of Canada's divers, longshot Brittany Reimer turned in the fastest prelim time, a 4:08.28. Two years ago, as a 15 year-old, Reimer began coming on strong. Then she sputtered and seemed to be fading from the scene.

This morning she not only qualified first, she swam the best-paced race as well. Tonight she carries the hopes of a nation on her shoulders. But she'll have to take her game to another level to bring hoe the gold.

Qualifying second in 4:08.40 was Romania's often overlooked Camelia Potec, the Olympic champ at 200 meters. Third was Japan's Ai Shibata, the Olympic 800-meter champion and a fierce competitor. The eighth qualifier this morning was France's Laure Manaudou, the Olympic champion in this race and pre-meet favorite here.

Every woman in this final has a legitimate shot at winning, including the two Brits who qualified fourth and fifth, Jo Jackson and Caitlin McClatchey. There are no Americans in this final.

It should take a 4:06 to win this race, and we're going to go with experience:
1. Shibata
2. Potec
3. Reimer

Women's 400-meter Freestyle Relay

In our pre-meet predictions we picked Australia to win this race and, after this morning's prelims, see no reason to change that forecast.

The battle should be for silver and, while the USA, which qualified fifth, should take the runner-up spot, it won't be easy with strong challenges expected from France and Germany, and possibly the Netherlands and China as well.

1. AUS
2. USA
3. FRA