Olympics, Swimming: Alain Bernard Captures 100 Free Gold

By John Lohn

BEIJING, China, August 14. ALAIN Bernard has his vindication. The man who was tracked down by Jason Lezak on the anchor leg of the 400 freestyle relay, thus watching a gold medal turn to silver for his nation, has his gold medal. Bernard, the former world-record holder in the event, held off Australian Eamon Sullivan to win the 100 freestyle.

In a head-to-head battle with Sullivan from the start, Bernard turned at the 50-meter mark in second place, his effort 22.53 just off Sullivan's 22.48. Bernard, though, pulled ahead on the final lap and maintained that advantage on the way to a clocking of 47.21. It was just off the 47.20 that he registered in the semifinals.

"I can't believe it," Bernard said. "I know I was feeling down after the relay, but I didn't want to get beaten. I have been working for years and years. I didn't panic during the race. When I looked at the board, I thought, `Wow, I did it.' It's a great joy to be here. I want to enjoy the moment."

For Sullivan, who touched in 47.32 for the silver medal, it was a bad time to have a race that didn't match his previous efforts. Sullivan had been 47.05 in the semifinals for a world record, a time that would have allowed for a comfortable triumph. But, they have rounds for a reason and Bernard is thrilled with the fact.

The bronze medal was shared by American Jason Lezak and Brazil's Cesar Cielo. The men tied in 47.67, but Lezak will be more than satisfied with splitting the podium. One of the best relay swimmers in American history, the medal was Lezak's first of the individual variety at either a World Championships or Olympic Games.

"It felt good," Lezak said. "I definitely wasn't going to make the same mistake I made four years ago where I took the preliminaries too easy. It's been eating at me for a long time. So to go out and accomplish a medal is really exciting. It doesn't top the relay medal, but it's something I've been pushing (after) for years."

Two-time defending champion Pieter van den Hoogenband saw his chase for a third straight crown come to an end when he touched in 47.75 for fifth. The Dutchman was trying to become the first man in swimming to win three consecutive gold medals in an individual event. Hoogie was followed in sixth by South Africa's Lyndon Ferns (48.06) and seventh went to Aussie Matt Targett (48.20). Sweden's Stefan Nystrand was eighth in 48.33.