Five golds for Thorpe as Baker wins bronze

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The Independent Online

On the night that Zoe Baker won Britain's fifth medal of the week, Ian Thorpe secured his fifth title to equal the record number of golds from one swimmer at a World Championships.

Baker set a European record of 31.23sec in the heats of the 50m breaststroke and swam a blistering first 35m last night. As the field closed in around her, the 25-year-old from Sheffield showed nerves of steel to hold on for bronze, finishing in 31.40, just 0.03sec behind Kristy Kowal, of the United States, who took silver.

"I thought gold was in sight after the record in the heats but the final is a different race," she said. "It's all about places and I'm pleased to have won a medal. I think I tried too hard at the beginning and tired up in the last few metres."

Two more world records fell at the championships in Fukuoka, Japan, and the best performance was by the Australian team in the 4x200m freestyle. Undefeated in the last four years, the team are steamrollering the opposition and their own records. Their world record 7:04.66 was an exhibition of power swimming, taking 3.39sec off their previous mark, as the team finished a staggering 10 seconds in front of Italy, who set a European record to win the silver. The United States took bronze with Britain finishing fourth but well below their best.

As good as Thorpe is, he proved that he is not a natural sprinter as he could only manage fourth in the 100m freestyle. The stage was set for Pieter van den Hoogenband, the Olympic champion and world record holder, to win his first gold, but he underestimated the speed of Anthony Ervin, of the United States, the gold medallist in the 50m event. Chasing the American from the start, Van den Hoogenband thought he had won a tight finish and began his celebrations. But the timing system, already the subject of controversy this week, failed to register a time for the American. When it did, it revealed Ervin's time of 48.33, to the Dutchman's 48.43.

"I had got the gold medal," Van den Hoogenband said. "In my mind I had won the race because I knew I could beat Thorpe, but I underestimated the American."

Mark Foster was in magnificent form as he finished the first semi-final of the 50m butterfly just 0.06sec outside the world record. But, a few moments later, the Australian Geoff Huegill did the job properly to lower the mark to 23.44sec. The pair are ranked first and second into today's final.

The controversy surrounding the timing system rumbles on as the United States team seek to reinstate their women's 4x200m freestyle team as champions. After both they and the Australian team were disqualified, Britain was awarded its first-ever women's world gold medal. But the United States are appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne. The US team were disqualified after their second swimmer, Cristina Teuscher, apparently left her block too early, but the Americans say that the touch pad was faulty.

Furthermore, the Fina chief executive, Cornel Marculescu, has finally admitted the championship is suffering major problems with the timing system. "The problems are unfortunate ­ it's hard to believe in this day and age that we would have such problems," said Marculescu.

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