Swimming: Foster caps medal charge

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The Independent Online
Giving The performance of his career, Mark Foster won silver in the 50 metres freestyle here yesterday. In an electric atmosphere at the San Pablo Stadium, Steve Parry won a surprise bronze and York City's Caroline Foot was the heroine of the women's 4x100m medley team which won Britain's third bronze medal of the championships in a new British record time of 4min 10.31sec.

Leading after a phenomenal start, Foster held off all his challengers except one. Alex Popov, the greatest freestyle swimmer in the world, won a third consecutive European 50m title. "I have trained for this all year," Foster said afterwards. "I got it nearly right. I got close, but Alex was brilliant."

Britain's best day in the pool so far began when the 20-year-old Parry swam a lifetime best for bronze in the 200m butterfly after the British record holder in the event, James Hickman, was forced to withdraw after a debilitating illness left him too weak to compete.

Taking his opportunity, Parry powered down the final 50 metres to take bronze. "If I had grown my fingernails I could have won the silver, but at least I've got some flowers for my mum," he said. "It's not that you expect to get a medal, you're just pleased to come away from a competition with something."

Success bred success. With the crowd still celebrating the first Spanish gold of the competition, Foot swam an outstanding butterfly leg of the women's 4x100 medley relay, setting up Karen Pickering to anchor the team for the second bronze of the day. This is Pickering's eighth European bronze medal. "I've got enough bronze to melt down for a statue," she said.

Despite leading at half-way in the 100m backstroke, Neil Willey was unable to add to the medals and finished seventh, with Martin Harris eighth.

With two golds, one silver and one bronze, and the final day of competition today, Britain are third in the medals table behind Germany and Russia. Hopes are with Ian Wilson and Britain's Olympic bronze medallist Graeme Smith competing in the longest event of the programme, the 1500m. The British pair will face tough opposition in the Italian Emiliano Brembilla.

It was Brembilla who set the stadium alight on Friday when he became the third fastest man of all time over 400m, thus ending Palmer's hopes of winning a third gold medal.

Brembilla is likely to break the 15-minute barrier tonight and Wilson and Smith will have to do the same to beat the Italian. Smith's British record stands at 15:02.48.

In the final event of the six days of competition, the men's 4x100 medley team will feel confident of repeating the success of the women's team.

Sue Rolph narrowly missed her own British record yesterday, finishing fifth in the women's 200m individual medley. Her last chance of a medal will be the 50m freestyle.

The championships have been marked by triumph over adversity, as Popov dramatically returned to international competition after a horrific stabbing incident in a Moscow street market last August which nearly cost him his life.

His fourth consecutive European 100m freestyle title here, together with his performance yesterday, will echo around the swimming world.

The British man of the meet is the double gold-medallist Palmer, who finally exchanged silvers for gold and set the team up for one of its most successful championships of the last 30 years.

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