OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Swimming: Best of Gillingham burnished in bronze

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NICK Gillingham swam the fastest 200 metres breaststroke of his life last night but still failed to win an Olympic gold. Instead the race and the world record went to Mike Barrowman, of the United States. Gillingham's reward was a bronze to go with the silver he gained in Seoul four years ago.

Barrowman clocked 2min 10.16sec to trim the record by 0.44sec, finishing a touch ahead of Norbert Rozsa (2:11.23) and Gillingham (2:11.29). The quality of the race was underlined by the fact that three of the four fastest times in history had been recorded during it.

At the end Gillingham, from the City of Birmingham, stared at the scoreboard announcing his third place, shaking his head slightly. At 25, his last chance of an Olympic gold medal had almost certainly gone. 'I'm satisfied with a lifetime best,' he said. 'It's a fantastic result. I was beaten by two very good swimmers.'

For four days the nation has focused its interest on Gillingham's fitness with the same interest England supporters used to pay to Bryan Robson's ailments. The groin strain he sustained in failing to win the 100m breaststroke had threatened his appearance in last night's race and even as he stepped on to his blocks he was unsure how it would affect him.

'As we lined up I had no faith the leg would hold out,' he said. 'I've had about 16 hours of medical treatment since Sunday and my pre-race programme was affected. Normally I swim a few practice laps at race pace but tonight I had to hold myself back. My preparation went completely out of the window.'

If Gillingham was suffering a crisis of confidence, he hid it well. Walking out he looked like a beach bum more interested in Pink Floyd on his personal stereo than the race ahead, but the mild demeanour was deceptive. 'It's a war out there,' he said. 'Eight people want to beat each other. I was listening to a track called 'Dogs of War' which fired me up.'

Barrowman was also drowning out the poolside noise with music of his own but his choice of Pat Benatar obviously had a more stimulating effect than Pink Floyd because the American shot off his blocks and was a foot ahead by the first turn. Gillingham drew alongside twice but could not get past and was eventually overtaken himself by Rozsa. 'It was eight years since an American man broke a world record in an Olympic swimming final,' Barrowman said, 'and the run had to stop.'

Barrowman was true to his intention, but his was not the first individual swimming world record of the Games. Evgueni Sadovyi, of the Unified Team, won the men's 400m freestyle in 3:45.00 to beat the previous mark by the massive margin of almost one and a half seconds. It was the Russian's third gold of the Games.

Sadovyi, the 200m champion and a member of the successful 4 x 200m team, was carried to the record on the back of Sweden's Anders Holmertz, who set a ferocious pace for the first seven lengths and was caught only at the final turn. Kieren Perkins, the previous record holder, swept by and the gold seemed certain to be set fair for the Australian until Sadovyi shot past him and Holmertz. Perkins was also inside the old record but 0.16sec slower.

While Sadovyi has been winning finals for a state that is not united and exists only as a badge of convenience, the women's team of the United States has been consistently failing to live up to expectation. Two further golds passed them by yesterday, Anita Nall and Christine Ahmann- Leighton finishing second in the 100m breastroke and the 100m butterfly respectively. The winners were Elena Roudkovskaia, of the Unified Team, and Hong Qian of China.

At least the Americans have some winners. All the British have gained, Gillingham's medal apart, is a probable glimpse of the future in Paul Palmer.

The triple European junior champion from Lincoln has been an exception to the British rule in the pool to date, setting a national record in the 200m freestyle earlier in the week and finishing 10th fastest in the 400m heats yesterday. At 17, he laid a marker for the Atlanta Olympics in four years time by finishing second in the B final.

The other British success came in the 4 x 100m relay where a domestic record of 3:21.11 was set in the heats by Mike Fibbens, Mark Foster, Paul Howe and Roland Lee. The outstanding leg was Foster's 49.93 which augurs well for today's 50m, a distance in which he has a world ranking of fourth.

Suki Brownsdon's comment after finishing eighth in her 100m breaststroke heat perhaps summed up the week. 'It just wasn't there and I don't understand why.' A few British swimmers have been mulling that one over.

Photograph, page 33