Britain's best for almost 40 years

In a world of lies, damned lies and statistics, the true story at the end of the European Championships here was revealed in the medals table.

In arguably their best championships in nearly 40 years, Britain's swimmers finished sixth - with Germany, Russia and Italy the top three - and one silver behind Michelle de Bruin.

After a controversial start to her week here, De Bruin, Ireland's triple Olympic gold medallist from Atlanta, surprisingly took only silver in the 200 metres butterfly yesterday. Heavily favoured for a third gold, De Bruin was beaten by a powerful surge down the final length from Spain's Maria Pelaez. Urged on by a patriotic crowd, she clocked the fastest time in Europe this year, 2:10.25, to become the first Spanish woman to win a European gold.

De Bruin, usually so meticulous, nearly daydreamed herself out of the final. In confusion before the start of her race, De Bruin was still changing into her racing suit as the others were parading for the final. "I seemed to be jinxed in this event. I was waiting for the 1,500 metres final then realised my final was next. I didn't have my suit or goggles on and had to be ready in two minutes flat. I grabbed them and ran. I wasn't very relaxed when I lined up."

Her plans for the World Championships, just six months away, are hardly going smoothly, either. "I don't know where I'll be training between now and Perth," she said.

That is later, but for now she described herself as "very proud". I swam four of the longest events and came out with two gold and two silver."

Britain's best hope for gold, the Olympic bronze medallist Graeme Smith, was distraught after finishing a distant fourth in the 1,500 metres. Ian Wilson was seventh in the same final.

Preoccupied by exams in his second year of a business studies degree at Manchester University, Smith was not fit enough for these Europeans. He will now train full-time and return to finish the degree after the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

In a largely anticlimactic end to the championships, the high point was provided by an awesome display of controlled swimming by Emiliano Brembilla. The Italian became the third fastest man of all time in the 400m on Friday and joined an elite group of six when he broke 15 minutes in the 1,500m final last night.

In the 200m backstroke Helen Don Duncan, 16, finished a creditable fifth in her first senior international competition and Joe Deakins was sixth. The men's 4x100m medley team were also sixth.

It was a disappointing end after Britain's most successful session on Saturday. Mark Foster's new racing technique finally paid off in the 50m sprint as he took silver behind one of the stars of the week, Russia's Alex Popov. Bronze medals went to Liverpool's Steve Parry in the 200m butterfly and to the women's medley relay. Parry was not put off after a disastrous 100 metres on the second day and successfully refocused on his stronger event.

Deryk Snelling, the man responsible for British performances here, will see the championships as a success with two golds, one silver, three bronzes and 29 championship finalists. He has a seven-year plan to the Olympics in 2004 and his bid for Lottery funding will be made this autumn. With precious little in place when he arrived here last October, he has constructed a comprehensive framework for development that is beginning to show promising signs.

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