Swimming: Sluggish start hampers chances of British success

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The Independent Online

It took until the final event of the first day of the world short-course championships for the swimmers in Moscow to warm up. With overnight temperatures reaching –12°C and thick snow outside the Olympiisky Sports Complex, the teams can be forgiven the sluggish start to the championships. But when they finally hit their stroke, it left the British out in the cold.

The only world record was set by the Chinese women's 4x200m freestyle team, beating the mark set by Britain's world champion quartet in Norwich last August. The young, inexperienced team, recorded 7min 46.30 sec to slice 0.84sec from the British mark.

The British pair of Zoe Baker and James Hickman have until today's finals to find their form. Baker was third into the final of the 50m breaststroke but has significant ground to make up on Sweden's Emma Igelstrom. Four of the swimmers in that final have held the world record in recent months, a record which has been broken nine times since December. Igelstrom, the current record holder at 30.24sec, was fastest into the final, followed by South Africa's Sarah Poewe, the defending champion, then Baker, with China's LuoXuejuan in fifth.

"I wobbled at the start and snatched at the stroke instead of relaxing on the way back. I'm disappointed with the way I swam it," she said. Baker has more pure speed than her rivals but the 0.6sec she needs to find is significant over 50 metres.

James Hickman, however, has an even more difficult task to win a medal in the 100m butterfly. The 200m specialist was out-muscled in the semi-final by Olympic and world champion Lars Frolander, and Australia's Geoff Heugill. The Leeds based swimmer was sixth into today's final. "I know I am going to have to raise the level tomorrow," he said. "I always want to win when I swim but I'm under no illusions about what I will have to do here to get a medal."

Mark Foster starts his defence of his title in the 50m freestyle today. Foster is notorious for taking his time to get into a competition, but he cannot afford a sluggish start here.