Swimming: Hickman's fourth title provides fitting finale

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The Independent Online

It was a shame that the world short course championships ended in Moscow last night just as the swimmers were beginning to hit their stride. Three world records were set and James Hickman struck the first gold of the week for Britain. The four British swimmers here will return home today having satisfied Bill Sweetenham's request that each comes home with a medal.

Hickman was going for a fourth straight world title in the 200m butterfly. Lining up against the Olympic silver and bronze medallists, Hickman showed why he has been so dominant in the short course pool for so long. Leading from the first turn with some outstanding underwater work, the City of Leeds swimmer was never challenged, touching first in 1min 53.14sec, nearly a second clear of the Australian Justin Norris.

"It was about being strong in my head," he said, "and having the heart to carry it out. I was planning to take it out strong. because I knew I was the fastest in the field up to 150m. I could hear the crowd and I thought maybe the Russian swimmer Poliakov was doing something but he didn't."

Alison Sheppard added a silver in the 50m freestyle to the bronze she won in the 200m individual medley on Friday. But in an unprecedented twist, the race had to be reswum after a faulty block led to a complaint by the Australian Sarah Ryan.

When the swimmers lined up again half an hour later, the result was the same: gold to the Loughborough-based Swede Therese Alshammar, and silver to the Canadian-based Scot. Sensing her best chance for a world title, Sheppard was clearly first to the 25m turn, missing out only in the final stroke.

"I felt fine before the second swim, it wasn't a problem," Sheppard said. "I was glad to have a second chance of the gold although I wasn't so glad that I had done a slightly worse time. I am really pleased to get a silver and bronze if a little disappointed with the times today." Sheppard has set seven Scottish and three British records over the five days of competition.

In the 50m butterfly on Saturday Mark Foster added a bronze to the silver he won in the 50m freestyle but with no world titles Foster returns home dissatisfied. "Many swimmers coming away from a world championships with silver and bronze medals would be very happy but I have won titles in the past and that is what I am in it for," he said. With the Commonwealth Games coming up, Foster will be disappointed to have been beaten by the Australians Geoff Huegill and Adam Pine.

The Americans hit top form yesterday with three world records. Eighteen-year-old Aaron Peirsol lowered the 200 backstroke record, Lindsay Benko did the same in the 200m freestyle and the men's 4x100 medley team just pipped the Australians in the final event of the championships. Australia leave as top team with 10 golds to the US's eight.

With one gold, two silver and three bronzes, Britain's team of four have met all expectations. They travel from Moscow to Manchester today, to compete in the Commonwealth trials which start in Manchester on Wednesday.