Pankratov flies to world record

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The Independent Online
Denis Pankratov shattered the oldest men's swimming world record with a powerful performance at the European Championships in Vienna yesterday which even outshone the dramas of Germany's golden girl, Franziska van Almsick, who failed to qualify for the final of the 200 metres freestyle, in which she is world chmpion and the world record holder. In her absence, Britain's Karen Pickering took her third bronze medal of the week.

Pankratov, a 21-year-old Volgograd student, carved half a second from the 100m butterfly world mark established byAmerica's Pablo Morales nine years ago. The Russian, who broke the world 200m butterfly record in June, swept to gold in 52.32sec to eclipse Morales's 52.84 set in Orlando, Florida, in 1986.

Nobody, apart from Morales in that swim, had ever broken 53 seconds but the black-capped Pankratov changed all that as he trounced his nearest rivals by more than a second at the Stadionbad. Known for his stamina, he demonstrated a ferocious sprinting power to relegate Ukraine's Denis Silantiev and Poland's world and defending European champion, Rafal Szukala, to silver and bronze, a vast 1.05sec and 1.13sec behind him.

It was a day of drama for van Almsick, who made a mess of her 200m freestyle heat but went on to swim nearly three seconds faster to win the consolation B final than her team-mate Kerstin Kielgass managed in taking the gold medal.

In a bizarre repeat of last year's World Championships in Rome, van Almsick managed only the ninth-fastest time in the heats and was a tantalising 0.05 seconds slower than the eighth and slowest qualifier. Another team- mate, Dagmar Hase, rescued her in Rome by sacrificing her own place in the final and van Almsick went on to set a world record of 1min 56.78sec.

Van Almsick put her failure down to pressure, feeling the weight of expectation as she sought an unprecedented seven golds after winning six and a silver at the 1993 European Championships in Sheffield.

"You can talk to people and friends about pressure beforehand but when I'm on the blocks I wonder: `What will happen if I don't win?" she said.

Pickering, from Ipswich, is becoming a collector of bronze. Yesterday's brought her tally to six for two championships. She could not find the sprint that carried her to gold at the World Short Course Championships two years ago, but hung on to tie for bronze, with Mette Jacobsen of Denmark, in 2:01.52sec.

Britain's two other finalists both finished fifth. Marie Hardiman, of Birmingham, made the final in the 200m breast-stroke with a time of 2:31.16, with Belgium's Brigitte Becue retaining her title in 2min 27.66sec. The men's 4x200m freestyle quartet of Paul Palmer (Lincoln), Andrew Clayton, Gavin Meadows (both Leeds) and James Salter (Birmingham) finished nearly eight seconds behind the winners, Germany, in 7:26.13.