OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Li heightens water torture for US

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The Independent Online
A LARGE part of the gap left in women's swimming caused by the break- up of the East German state machine is being filled by the Chinese. Li Lin fished her country's third gold from the pool last night, breaking the sport's oldest world record in the process.

Li clocked 2min 11.65sec to better Ute Geweniger's old mark for the 200 metres medley set in Berlin 11 years ago by 0.08 seconds. At the same time she further irritated a United States team that had anticipated being the overwhelming beneficiaries from the disappearance of the country that won 10 of the 15 women's golds in Seoul. That this mild form of Chinese water torture is being orchestrated by the same east German coaches who oversaw the previous hegemony pleases them not one bit.

The Americans had hoped to fly 12 female golds from Barcelona but their tally, including Janet Evans' victory in the 800m and a world record by the 4 x 100 medley relay last night, is four. China, who hired the east Germans when the unification with the West deprived them of jobs, are just one behind. Li, second in the 400m medley and 200m breaststroke, continued the trend of Oriental aggrandisement in the pool, pipping American Summer Sanders by 0.26 seconds.

Britain would love to be in Spain's position (one gold), never mind the US or Chinese women's, but so far only four swimmers have made it to an Olympic final here. Mark Foster got there yesterday, reaching the climax of the 50m as the eighth fastest qualifier.

In some events that position would imply no chance whatsoever but the 50m is as much a reflex action as a race. Only half a second split the final qualifiers so it only needed a poor start, a breath at the wrong time or a misjudged touch and four places could be lost. He who starts first often laughs last.

Foster has a reputation as a quick man off the blocks so when he emerged from the dive just behind Matt Biondi and Alexander Popov it did not augur well for his medal hopes. The whole field was compressed into a yard, but it was the latter who touched first, setting an Olympic record of 21.91sec. Foster was sixth in 22.52 and Biondi, a five-time winner in Seoul, missed out on his second individual gold of the Games with 22.09.

While Foster was taking the shortest course, Ian Wilson began the long haul to a potential medal in the 1,500 metres. The 21-year- old from Sunderland was the fifth fastest qualifier for tonight's final in 15:15.37, 12 seconds slower than the winner and favourite for the gold, Australia's Kieren Perkins.

Nevertheless, Wilson's demeanour suggested he had done enough with the minimum amount of energy expended. 'The time was exactly what I'd planned,' he said. 'I was going to swim that way whether I'd been in front or chasing. Yesterday I came to the pool to practise and felt very nervous but today I felt fine.'

What had not gone to plan was Sharron Davies's dismissal from the women's 200m individual medley where she finished eighth in her heat. Davies, a silver medallist in Moscow 12 years ago, had said she would need to swim two seconds faster than ever before to reach the final. Instead she clocked 2:19.41, two seconds the other way. 'I was swimming so well in training camp I can't understand what went wrong,' she said, following the team theme.

Following Mel Stewart has become a way of life for the world's 200m butterfly fraternity. The American is so dominant his countrymen described the race as a 'no brainer' when it came to predicting the winner. So it was to prove, Stewart setting an Olympic record of 1:56.26 while beating the rest by 1.5 seconds. His hobby is cow tipping and at 23, the future looks his for some time to come. Until the cows come home perhaps.