Swimming: Francis earns silver reward for hard graft

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The Independent Online

In his international debut in Antwerp, Bath University's Robin Francis came of age at the European Short Course Championships last night. On a night that Britain won three silvers and one bronze, his was the least expected and the hardest won. A British record from the heats in the 400 metres individual medley gave the 19-year-old all day to ponder his position as favourite for last night's final. Against a first-class field that included last year's champion, the Italian Alessio Boggiatto, who again won gold in a new championships record time here, Francis gave a performance that belied his inexperience, smashing his British record to win silver in 4:08.49.

Sarah Price, James Gibson and James Hickman were the other British medallists beaten to the gold by some stunning swimming. The fourth world record of the championships fell to Germany's Thomas Rupprath in a shock defeat of Sweden's Olympic and world champion, Lars Frolander. Stroke for stroke over the 100 metres butterfly, the under-water work off the final turn gave Rupprath the momentum to snatch the gold medal in a world record 50.26sec. Hickman could not live with this pace but happily settled for bronze.

Price was a shade outside her Commonwealth record from the semi-finals as she held on for silver behind a European record of 57.75 from the Czech Republic's Ilona Hlavackova in the 100m backstroke, while James Gibson was narrowly edged into silver in the 100m breaststroke. Darren Mew finished fourth.

It was not a good day for the British starting in pole position. The 18-year-old Rebecca Cooke swam in lane four for the 800m freestyle but struggled to fourth place.

At the halfway stage of the championships Britain has four silver and two bronze medals, recording six British records. The surprise has been the four world and seven European records that have elevated these championships to the highest level.

Hickman and Gibson will lead Britain's hunt for medals today and Pieter Van den Hoogenband will attack the record in the 100m freestyle.

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