Swimming: European record for Baker

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The Independent Online
WE COULD have been excused a hangover yesterday from the heady brew of outstanding swimming that was served up the night before. But three European records, three British records and a piece of good luck for Paul Palmer were enjoyed under perfect conditions here last night.

Britain's Zoe Baker set a European record in a blistering 50m breaststroke semi-final. Inge de Bruijn did likewise in her 100m butterfly semi, while Germany's Stev Theloke made it three when he won gold in the 50m backstroke.

Baker, 23, showed the same impressive form that brought her a European record in the National Championships in Sheffield earlier this month when she set a new European mark of 31.43sec to qualify first for tonight's final.

Three years ago she made the difficult decision to move to New Zealand to join her old coach from her home town of Sheffield, Kim Swanwick. Based in Christchurch, Swanwick has painstakingly dismantled her stroke and rebuilt it.

"I now force my hips up to meet my hands and tonight it felt great," she said. "I was very calm before the race and once I was in I took two strokes to build the rhythm and then I just went." Baker will be pushed by the Hungarian Agnes Kovacs, the 100m gold medallist.

In the men's race, Darren Mew set a British record of 28.42sec and is fourth fastest into today's final, whilst Germany's Mark Warnecke was just 0.02sec outside the world record.

Also threatening a world record is the golden boy of the championships, Pieter van den Hoogenband. There is great expectation on the poolside that he can break Australian Grant Hackett's 200m freestyle world record of 1:46.67.

Lining up alongside him will be Paul Palmer, the gold medallist in the 400m freestyle and defending champion in the 200. But Palmer is lucky to be there - in yesterday's heats he finished 17th fastest and was only first reserve for the semi-finals. However, with the news of a withdrawal, Palmer was back in. Grateful for a second chance, he dominated his race, winning comfortably from lane eight in 1:49.03.

"Basically, I was just unprofessional this morning," Palmer admitted. "I plodded along thinking it would be easy to qualify but after the heat I really thought I was out. I think the gold is out of reach, but van den Hoogenband should drag the rest of us to a good time and a silver is anyone's."

Palmer is third fastest for tonight's final while the Millfield student Ed Sinclair qualified in seventh.

Nicola Jackson claimed a British junior record of 1:01.80 in the 100m butterfly but she was not quite fast enough to reach the final. There was disappointment, too, for James Hickman and Steve Parry in the 200m butterfly when they finished fourth and fifth respectively in the final. "Pants," was the official quote from Parry, a Liverpudlian based at Stockport Metro.

Hickman had more to say. "I'm too rested. I need an extra half a second per 50 and that shows a lack of endurance. But this looks good for the 100."