Palmer eases into overdrive

Paul Palmer again proved that he is the colossus of the pool on day three of the Olympic Games trials. Such is his control of British swimming that he used the 200m freestyle final for some fine-tuning pace work and still won comfortably, just 0.4sec outside his British record, in 1min 48.42sec.

Paul Palmer again proved that he is the colossus of the pool on day three of the Olympic Games trials. Such is his control of British swimming that he used the 200m freestyle final for some fine-tuning pace work and still won comfortably, just 0.4sec outside his British record, in 1min 48.42sec.

"I was not out as quickly in the final because of the hard work I've been doing. I have seven weeks to work on sharpening up the speed and I know that the fitness is there," Palmer said. Taking it steady for 75 metres, he then moved up a gear to overhaul the early leader, Jamie Salter, who finished second. The pair will therefore double up in both the 200m and 400m in Sydney.

The first four finishers in the event combined to a time of 7:16.12, well under British record pace for the 4x200m relay team. With relay takeovers lowering the time by another 1.5sec, this squad has a realistic chance of taking an Olympic medal to add to the bronze they won at the World Championships two years ago. "We've got five guys under 1:50 and that's brilliant," said Palmer. "The Dutch are strong and the Americans are good, besides the Australians, of course, and we're in with a shout as well."

James Hickman dominated his heat in the semi-finals of the men's 200m butterfly, winning by nearly five seconds in 1:58.55 to dip under the qualifying time. Steve Parry won the other semi-final by four seconds, finishing in 1:57.78, to set up one of the races of the championships in today's mouth-watering final.

In the women's events, childhood dreams were coming true. In the 100m backstroke, Sarah Price was under her British record pace at the 50m mark, but it was an ecstatic Katy Sexton who finished the stronger to take back the record, winning in 1:01.80. Her delight was obvious as she collected the trophy that meant she was both national champion, and, more importantly, Olympian.

"I'm so relieved," she said. "I always struggle a bit at the end, and I have been working on holding the stroke together and keeping focused. Having Sarah take the record in the semis took the pressure off me a bit."

Price finished second and was also under the qualifying time for Sydney. "We're both thrilled to be going," she said.

Heidi Earp set the British record of 1:09.92 in the 100m breaststroke semi-final and she eased ahead at 75 metres and held on bravely to win the final in 1:10.16.

Adam Ruckwood won the men's 100m backstroke final in 55.81 to qualify for his third Olympics, and he was receiving the congratulations of all around him as, two feet away, Neil Willey sat distraught. He missed qualifying by 0.02sec and sat alone with his thoughts and tears. In finishing third, Martin Harris announced his retirement from the sport.

Karen Pickering is back to her best form in the 200m freestyle after a steady semi- final victory, but she will have to raise her game to overhaul Karen Legg and Nicola Jackson, who both qualified ahead of her for today's final.

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