Pickering sees hopes harpooned

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The Independent Online
Karen Pickering had said it would need a perfect race from her to win an Olympic medal but perfection was a long way beyond her grasp in the pool yesterday. She failed to reached the final of the 100m freestyle, unable even to match her time in the British trials.

The 24-year-old from Ipswich clocked 56.4 seconds to miss the final by 0.33 sec. It sounds a small margin but there were five women ahead of her before the finishing list reached the fastest eight. An appearance in the B final last night was not a substantial compensation.

The gap between Pickering and the world record holder, China's Le Jingyi, was apparent from the start. They were side by side on the blocks but by the time they had surfaced from the dive a gap of nearly a foot had opened.

By the turn the distance between herself and Le had grown to 0.8 seconds and her hopes of making the final had disappeared. At the finish Le, who later won the gold medal with a time of 54.50sec, was two yards ahead.

"I can never go out with them in the first 50 and if I improve my speed I compromise my stamina for the 200," Pickering said. "It's a bit daunting coming out of your dive to find you are down on Le but I expected to spend the race at her feet. I'm always behind after the first length but it's much harder to get it back at this level."

Pickering, who finished fifth, was half a second down on her swim in the trials in Sheffield in March which was the 10th fastest time recorded this year. Somehow she drew some encouragement for the 200m freestyle today, a distance in which she won a gold in the world short-course championships three years ago. "When I swim a good 100 my performance over the longer distance is always poor," she said.

Sarah Hardcastle also fell at the heat stage, this time in the 400m individual medley, although she never had any great expectations in the first place. "It's nice to loosen me up," she said before the race. "It breaks me into the competition here. I can sample the pool and find out how things work behind the scenes, where to report etc. It can be hard taking all that in just before your main event."

That is the 800m freestyle on Wednesday, in which she says she has a genuine medal hope. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think so," she said. Certainly the freestyle was her best leg yesterday, converting a last place after the breaststroke into seventh and a time of 4min 54.64sec.

With the failure of the women it was left to Paul Palmer to provide Britain's only finalist although he got there in the unlikeliest of circumstances.

The City of Lincoln swimmer clocked an identical time of 1min 49.05sec to Finland's Jani Sievinen and, as they were joint eighth, they had to swim off against each other. An hour after their original swim they took to the water and dead-heated again, this time in 1:48.89.

Sievinen, who is among the favourites for today's 400m individual medley, had done enough and decided to withdraw. "I didn't want another two races because I could jeopardise my chances in the medley," he said.

Trying to name five famous Belgians could become easier after yesterday. Fred deBurghgraeve not only won his heat in the men's 100m breaststroke but broke the world record with 1 min 0.60 sec, the first to be set in the centennial Games. He was slower in the evening - by 0.05 sec - but still won his country's first ever swimming gold.

Britain's Richard Maden could not hope to live with that level of performance, although the 23-year-old from Rochdale was only just outside a personal best with 1min 02.78, 0.02 seconds slower than the time he clocked in Sheffield.

Foot soldiers on, page 28

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