Commonwealth Games: Swimming: Hickman and Foster in full flow

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The Independent Online
IT WAS the day England struck back as their swimming hopes turned to glory at last for James Hickman and Mark Foster. Just as Australia's dominance of the pool appeared to be unrivalled, a sell-out crowd were able to rise to the English anthem for the first time since Saturday. Another four bronzes brought England's medal tally to 17, already four more than they won in Victoria four years ago.

Hickman denied William "The Thorpedo" Kirby his fifth gold with an emphatic win in the 200 metre butterfly. Leading from the front, Hickman was unchallenged on his way to a Commonwealth record time of 1:57.11, winning by more than two-and-a-half seconds from the Australian.

"I hit them early and I hit them hard," said a breathless Hickman. "It was a tough last 50 to complete but that was the plan. I'll go quicker with better pacing over the first 100."

Shrugging off the disappointment of a disqualification for a false start in the 100m, Hickman's victory began a medal rush. Foster closed on his Commonwealth record to take England's second gold in the 50m sprint. Breathing only twice, Foster used his 6ft 6in frame to out-reach South Africa's Brendan Dedekind to successfully defend his title in 22.58sec.

"After carrying the flag at the opening ceremony I thought `if I can do this, no one will stop me in the pool'," he said. "I had a good start but at about 35m I could see Dedekind under my arm but I knew if I could touch him out I would win."

Foster articulated England's response to the Australian hegemony this week. "We have been short of success since Sue Rolph's gold on the first day," he said. "Today our best swimmers are doing our job and it's up to the rest of the team to finish off the meet for us."

Although the gold rush ended there, the medals continued to come. Rolph added two bronze medals to the gold and two silvers she has already won: first, in the 200m individual medley and then anchoring the 4 x 100m medley team. Hoping for three golds, the most Rolph can now win is two, but was philosophical in defeat.

"I felt good to 150m but I'm a sprinter. I still need to work on my endurance to win over 200m," she said.

Sarah Collings was similarly introspective following a relatively disappointing swim. Seeded first into the final of the 800m freestyle the 20-year-old from Bath University was ahead of the field at 50 metres. But just four lengths later, she had dropped to fourth. With a gutsy fight back over the final 200m, Collings secured the bronze in 8:45.46.

"I was inspired by the anthems tonight and I swam a best time. I can't be disappointed with a bronze medal at my first Commonwealth Games," she said, but clearly she was. "I believed I could go under 8:40. The heats were so easy and yet I only dropped one second for the final. So maybe next time."

Ah, next time. Next time there is no burden of expectation; no inexperience; and always the hope of the perfect swim.

Steve Parry won bronze behind Hickman's gold in the 200m butterfly and is another who will have to wait for next time. Outwardly happy with the medal, he was inwardly at a loss to explain a time that was more than a second behind his best. Missing silver by 0.06sec added to his frustration.

On an indifferent day for the otherwise all-conquering Australians, Susan O'Neill provided one highlight. In winning her fifth as a member of the victorious 4 x 100m medley relay team, she equalled the biggest gold medal haul at a single games. Today O'Neill is expected to win one more gold in the 200m butterfly and set Games history.