Parry prevails in thrilling finale

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The Independent Online

In front of a packed crowd here last night, Steve Parry and James Hickman produced a head-to-head 200 metres butterfly race of the highest quality to set the Olympic trials alight.

In front of a packed crowd here last night, Steve Parry and James Hickman produced a head-to-head 200 metres butterfly race of the highest quality to set the Olympic trials alight.

Parry won in 1min 57.13sec with Hickman second in 1:57.46, but it was all about strength under pressure for these men, both gunning for medals in Sydney in seven weeks' time. Stroke for stroke, the pair were never more than 0.3sec apart but in the closing stages, Parry overhauled his rival and held on for victory.

"I knew I was behind for most of the race and I wanted to practise coming back strong. I've never come from behind and this is what we have been working on in training," he said.

"It's about racing more than the times this week and James has beaten me so many times at the Nationals that I wanted this. I raced well in March to set the British record and did so again here. Although these times won't scare anyone, we both know we will have to go 1:55 if we want to come home with anything, but I'll be inbetter form come the Games."

Immediately after the race, everyone wanted a piece of Parry. The drug tester wanted his urine, the physiologist took his blood for lactate testing and the media took his thoughts. It was just Hickman who was left with nothing.

Although he made all the right noises after the race, his frustration was palpable. After his victory in the 200m individual medley half an hour later, Hickman was more upbeat. "I just tried too hard on the last 30 metres and was using my legs instead of my hips. I tried to swim smart through a lot of semi-finals and finals and if I can start at 1:57 in the heats in Sydney and end up with 1:55 in the final, I will really have a chance."

The other race of the night was a tense 200m freestyle final. Karen Pickering collected her passport to Sydney to qualify for her fourth Olympics, but could not live with the strength of Karen Legg in the closing 25 metres, as Legg won in 2:00.45, with Pickering 0.22sec behind. Both are still chasing June Croft's 18-year-old record of 1:59.74 from the Brisbane Commonwealth Games.

As the rest of the field charged the wall, the prospects look good for the 4x200m team, with Nicola Jackson and Janine Belton giving a combined time some five seconds under the current British record. The British quartet shattered the world short-course record in March, and will join the men's 4x200m team as realistic medal hopes.

The seventh British record of the week fell to Ashton's Helen Don-Duncan in her semi-final of the 200m backstroke. In a storming finish, Don-Duncan took nearly a second off the previous record, finishing in a time of 2:11.73. Second, and underneath her old mark, was Bath's Jo Fargus.

Ecstatic though Don-Duncan was, she is not there yet. These times will only count if the duo finish first and second in today's final, and Portsmouth's Katy Sexton is already selected from the 100m and will therefore swim free of the pressure to qualify from the most eagerly anticipated races of the week.

Sue Rolph won the 200m individual medley and will be joined in Sydney by the 18-year-old Kathryn Evans from Nova Centurion, the second swimmer from the Nottingham squad to make the team this week.

Graeme Smith and Paul Palmer, Britain's two Olympic medallists from Atlanta, will compete in the 1500m final today and Jamaican-born Sion Brinn will join the rest of the men in a tightly packed 100m freestyle final.