Swimming: Sexton's late rush allows Britain to celebrate gold

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The Independent Online

Another night of extraordinary swimming brought gold, silver and bronze medals to British swimmers as Katie Sexton became Britain's first individual women's world champion in history.

In a display of mental control rarely seen in British swimmers, Sexton executed a perfect 200 metres backstroke to pass the European champion next to her in a dramatic final 50, to set a British and Commonwealth record 2min 08.74sec, to become the seventh fastest woman in history.

"I've never been so nervous in my life," she said. "My coach said to just believe and if you do there's no limit to what you can achieve. I was not aware that the race was so close down the last length but I knew that I could win a medal. I intend to build on this to Athens next year."

Sexton has had the week of her life, adding gold to the silver medal that she won in the 100m.

Sarah Price finished eighth in the final but will be spurred on by the domestic rivalry that will take both girls to Athens next year.

Mark Foster won silver in the 50m freestyle in an event that had a record crowd give a standing ovation to the Russian Alex Popov, who won his third gold medal of the week. At 33, Foster has finally given the performance his talent has been waiting for. So dominant in the 25m pool, Foster finally won the medal he has craved since bursting on to the world scene as a precocious 14-year-old.

"I've proved to the doubters that I can do it when it counts," he said. "I thought Popov would be too strong but I saw weaknesses in all the others so I knew I'd have a chance. I was happy to be in lane one and just get on and do my own thing. I've only been working in a programme with Colin Jackson for one year of a two-year process and even if I'd failed here I wouldn't change the programme because I know it's working."

Perhaps for the first time in his life Foster swam free from pressure or expectation and was finally rewarded for it.

Still the medals came as Rebecca Cooke won bronze in the 800m freestyle. A gutsy fight in the closing stages of the race saw the 20-year-old reset her British record in the event and complete the full set of medals for her team.

With one day to go the British team is enjoying its best world championships in history with two gold, three silver and two bronze. Racing today will be the world-record holder Zoë Baker in the 50m breaststroke after she qualified fourth fastest into the final. Hopes also rest with Scotland's Graeme Smith and the Welsh standout David Davis in the 1500m. Smith won world silver in this event in Japan two years ago and is second fastest into the final. Both Britons are likely to have to swim sub 15 minutes to win a medal. Only 12 men in history have ever done it.

But there was disappointment for Alison Shepherd as she missed the final of the 50m freestyle by just a hundredth of a second. Shepherd finished fourth in the event in Japan but is struggling with her form this week.

The stratospheric performances of American teenager Michael Phelps finally returned to earth as he was beaten in the 100m butterfly final by his team-mate Steve Crocker. In one of the closest races of the night, Crocker set the final alight as he rose to the challenge laid down by Phelps, setting a blistering pace at the halfway mark. With Phelps closing on every stroke, both men finished under the world record set by Phelps in the semi-final, but it was Crocker who took gold. With two events still to swim today, Phelps has two gold and two silver medals and has set four world records.

Tonight at the Palace of Sant Jordi he will be crowned the new king of world swimming and the battle for the title of world's greatest swimmer will reach fever pitch at the Athens Olympics in 12 months time.

"I've wanted to go 51 [seconds] for a long time but I guess I've skipped that one and I'll take the 50," Crocker said. "I don't know what to think right now. I'm in shock. I feel like someone's going to wake me up and it's going to be time to swim today."

The Brit awards: Three who shook the world

James Gibson (breaststroke)

Just the two medals then, James? A bronze in the 100m, where he tugged the field along at world-record pace before fading late in the stroke's fastest two-lapper ever swum, was followed by a 50m gold. Yes, gold, Britain's first since 1975, five years before Gibbo was a wink in dad's eye. Now for the 100m at the Olympics next year. Also eyeing Athens is Mark Foster after his 50m freestyle silver.

Ian Edmond (breaststroke)

The pools are alive with British breaststrokers. Gibson and Darren Mew are the sprinters, Edmond is the benchmark in the 200m. On the night only Kosuke Kitajima was able to beat this 25-year-old, but his 2:10.69 lowered Nick Gillingham's 11-year-old British record. This puts the Scot in with a shout in Athens. The omens are good: Britain's three gold medallists since the war have been breaststrokers.

Katy Sexton (backstroke)

Guess the word the 21-year-old Portsmouth lass used to describe silver in the 100m. "Disappointing." Which is an example of the standards she sets. She went out much too conservatively, only picking up her stroke late to tie for second. But there were no mistakes in the 200m, where she added a gold to her collection, while Rebecca Cooke took 800m free bronze.

By Gary Lemke

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