By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 24. THEY'VE had some great battles through the years and another one might be brewing at the FINA World Championships. The United States' Brendan Hansen and Japan's Kosuke Kitajima simply did their thing during the preliminaries of the 100 breaststroke. On his way to the top time of 59.96, Kitajima pushed the pace a little harder. Hansen, third in 1:00.59, went a little bit easier.
The world-record holder and owner of the four-fastest times in history, including a mind-boggling 59.13 from last summer, Hansen is the reigning world champ in the 100 and 200 breast events. He's also taken the upper hand over his competition since the Athens Olympics. Look for Hansen to crack the one-minute mark tonight in the semifinals.
By dipping under the one-minute barrier, Kitajima proved he has returned to the form he once knew. Since winning double-gold in the breast events at the Athens Olympics, Kitajima has been inconsistent. Although he was quick in the 100 breast en route to silver at the 2005 World Champs, Kitajima hasn't been himself on a regular basis. But, his sub-minute swim should provide confidence, provided he did not go all out in the prelims.
The second-fastest qualifier was Norway's Alexander Dale Oen in 1:00.34. Also cracking 1:01 were Lithuania's Giedrius Titenis (1:00.92) and the Ukraine's Oleg Lisogor (1:00.99), among the favorites for the 50 breast crown later in the week. The United States' Scott Usher grabbed the 12th position for the semifinals with a time of 1:01.36. That effort was one place behind Bulgaria's Mike Alexandrov, last week's NCAA record-setter in the 100 breast for Northwestern. Alexandrov went 1:01.15.