Olympics, Swimming: Finland’s Hanna-Maria Seppala Leads Qualifying in Women’s 100 Free

By John Lohn

BEIJING, China, August 13. IT'S still early, but there's a surprise sitting on top of the women's 100 freestyle. Finland's Hanna-Maria Seppala was the top qualifier after the preliminaries in the event as she took top honors in the sixth of seven heats with a time of 53.60. Seppala won her heat just ahead of Germany's Britta Steffen, the former world-record holder. Steffen clocked in at 53.67.

The third-fastest time of the prelims also came from the sixth heat, thanks to Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands producing an effort of 53.76. American Natalie Coughlin, already the gold medalist in the 100 backstroke and bronze medalist in the 200 individual medley, was fourth into the semifinals with a mark of 53.82.

Great Britain's Francesca Halsall, one of a number of British females helping the resurgence of that nation, was fifth in 53.93 and world-record holder Libby Trickett was the other woman to break the 54-second barrier. The Australian, the heavy favorite to capture the gold medal, cruised in a time of 53.99. Trickett earlier won gold in the 100 butterfly.

The Chinese duo of Pang Jiaying and Zhu Yingwen tied for the seventh spot in 54.01 and were followed in ninth by Denmark's Jeanette Ottesen (54.04). The field for the semifinals will also include Josefin Lillhage of Sweden (54.07), France's Malia Metella (54.12), Belarus' Aleksandra Gerasimenya (54.52), Aussie Cate Campbell (54.55), American Lacey Nymeyer (54.62) and Canada's Erica Morningstar (54.66).

Germany's Petra Dallman and Canada's Julia Wilkinson tied for the 16th spot in 54.70 and were headed for a swimoff. Wilkinson later decided to pull out of the swimoff to focus on other events.