World Champs, Day 4 Finals: Phelps, Aussie 800 Free Relay Take Gold; Kitajima Lowers Championship Mark Again in 200 Breaststroke.

By Stephen J. Thomas

BARCELONA, July 23. TONIGHT American teen phenom, Michael Phelps, took the gold medal in the 200 fly in 1:54.35 — the second fastest swim all-time — to complete the job he started yesterday when he smashed his own world and championship record.

Tonight he was always just outside world record pace but sufficient to comfortably beat Japan's Takashi Yamamoto (NR 1:55.52), who got by American Tom Malchow in the final lap for the silver medal. Malchow, the 2000 Olympic champion, was only 0.12 behind his countryman at the last turn but found a Steinway on his back as he got close to the flags to finish in 1:55.66.

Phelps was very satisfied with a job well done, while Malchow said, “it hurt coming home, those last couple of meters. Michael has set the standard pretty high but I hope to give him some competition next year and continue the US domination in the event.”

Yamamoto praised the guidance of his coach, “to build my race and concentrate on the last 50-meters and that's what I did.”

Women's 200m freestyle
Alena Popchanka from Belarus took the gold medal tonight after dueling with Slovakian Martina Moravcova for the entire race.

Moravcova, who started in lane 8 after a poor semi-final swim, led the race until the 150-meter mark, holding the most slender 0.01 second lead, but Popchanka made it to the wall first in 1:58.32 to Moravcova's 1:58.44.

China's Yang Yu was not far away in a close finish to take the bronze in 1:58.54. USA's Lindsay Benko, the fastest qualifier in both prelims and semis, was not able to improve on her winning heat time of 1:58.84 to finish a disappointing fourth. Her teammate, Rhiannon Jeffrey, finished eighth.

Moravcova said of her race, “I thought lane eight would be difficult because the pool is pretty wavy on the turns, but I didn't feel it. It is my second best time since my silver medal at the Olympics.”

Yang Yu was less impressed with her performance: “I'm not in very good condition, this was not my best performance. I can do better than this,” she said. Yang still holds the best performance this year of 1:57.70 set in April in China.

Men's 50m breaststroke
James Gibson won Great Britain's first gold medal of the meet when he touched in 27.56, just 0.04 short of his championship record set in the semis last night.

World record-holder and defending champion, Ukrainian Oleg Lisogor, took the silver in 27.74 just in front of Hungarian Mihaly Flaskay 27.79.

Gibson said after his race: “I've been working for this win for four years. I had a good start, felt very relaxed, very chilled out.”

Flaskay was a little disappointed: “The start was okay; the others were a little faster but I was strong enough to catch up. The time was not as good as I had expected but I'm satisfied with the bronze medal,” he said.

Fourth place went to 33 year-old physician, Mark Warnecke, of Germany.

Men's 800m freestyle relay
The Aussies have not lost this race for a long time. Thorpe, Hackett and Craig Stevens were part of the winning team at Pan Pacs in 2002.

The new kid on the team was 18-year-old Nick Sprenger swimming at his first major international meet. The Yanks had Phelps, Dusing, Peirsol and Keller to try and wrestle the title off the boys from Down Under.

Michael Phelps swam a brilliant first leg, 1:46.60 (fourth-fastest all-time performer and an American record, breaking Josh Davis' 1:46.73 from the Sydney Olympics) to Hackett's 1:47.19. Nate Dusing (1:48.79)and Craig Stevens (1:48.74) swam almost scratch times so the Yanks stayed in front at the halfway mark.

Aaron Peirsol, swimming freestyle internationally for the first time, was up against the inexperienced Sprenger. This was the critical leg as the Aussies had the Thorpedo waiting to bring them home. Sprenger stepped-up and did the Aussies proud, edging past the dorsal champ with his 1:48.24 to the American's 1:48.88, and sending Thorpe on his way to his third gold of the meet.

Thorpe clocked 1:44.41 — the second fastest split all-time behind his 1:44.14 from Fukuoka — but Klete Keller did an excellent job, battling Thorpe all the way to split 1:45.99 (7th fastest all-time). The Australians' winning time of 7:08.58 was the third fastest all-time.

Team USA finished with the silver medal in a new American record 7:10.26, the sixth fastest all-time, and Germany and Italy had a very close battle with the Germans taking bronze in 7:14.02 to 7:14.32.


Men's 200 breaststroke
Japan's breaststroke sensation, Kosuke Kitajima, came ever so close to regaining the world record snatched from him by Russian Dmitri Komornikov last month.

The 21-year-old Japanese was under world record pace at all turns (50: -0.86, 100: -0.97, 150: -1.56) to just fall short by 0.21 in a new championship record 2:09.73.

Ian Edmond from Great Britain (2:10.69) and American Brendan Hansen (2:11.33) were both also under world record pace at the third turn but fell short over the testing last 50 meters. Edmonds set a new national and Commonwealth record. Komornikov will be there tomorrow night, qualifying fifth in 2:12.74, behind Aussie Jim Piper (2:11.88).

Hungary's 14 year-old Dani Gyurta, swam a second slower than he did in prelims and failed to make the final cut.

Men's 100 freestyle
Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and Russian Alexander Popov were up against each other in the second semifinal in a possible preview of the final. Popov — the world record-holder over one-lap– versus Hoogie — “the Man” over this distance.

Popov did not disappoint. Last off the blocks, he flew down the first 50, turning in a blistering 22.91, a massive 0.25 seconds under his rival's world record split. Hoogie flipped in 23.33.

The Russian legend looked to have the race in his keeping but the flying Dutchman wore him down in the last couple of strokes to touch first in a hot 48.39 to Popov's 48.51.

In the first semifinal, Ian Thorpe also came from behind, turning in sixth place (23.83) behind American Jason Lezak (23.19). The winner of the 200-400 double powered home to win in a PR 48.71 from Lezak in 48.78. Russian Andrei Kapralov also went under 49-seconds clocking 48.98.

Women's 200 butterfly
Polish world record-holder Otylia Jedrzejczak made it clear she will be the one to beat in the final when she qualified fastest in 2:08.42. American Mary Descenza had another good swim when she splashed another PR 2:08.71 (5th fastest American performer).

Two other swimmers were under 2:10: Hungarian teen Eva Risztov (2:08.88) and Japan's Yuko Nakanishi (2:09.41). American Emily Mason missed the cut in equal 14th place.

Women's 50 backstroke
Local favorite Spaniard Nina Zhivanevskaya brought the crowd to their feet splashing 28.52, just 0.03 seconds outside Nat Coughlin's championship record to be first into the final.

Ilona Hlavackova from the Czech Republic swam another PR 28.62 for second best qualifier with German world record-holder Sandra Volker next best in 28.79.

American Haley Cope, the current title-holder, will also be there (28.80) as will Dane Louise Ornstedt, the 100 back silver medalist.