Swimming: Foster falls short of gold standard

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The Independent Online
ON THE second day of the European Championships here, it was Turkish delight for Sweden, but Britain struggled to taste success.

Anna Kammerling, an 18- year-old student from Malmo, set a world record in the women's 50 metres butterfly, taking 0.1sec off her own mark to finish in a time of 26.29sec.

In the men's final, Mark Foster won Britain's only swimming medal of the night, a bronze, finishing equal third in 24.39. Foster was quickest to the half-way point but seemed to lose his rhythm in the final stages.

"I came into the final thinking about a gold or silver, but I guess I was wrong," he said. Philosophical in defeat, Foster will step up again in the 50 freestyle on Saturday.

The gold medal was won by the golden boy of the championships so far, Dutchman Pieter Van den Hoogenband. The 21-year-old from PSV Eindhoven who set the world's fastest relay split over 100 metres freestyle on Monday, won the 50 fly last night and, crucially, conquered the Russian Alex Popov in yesterday's second semi-final of the individual 100 free.

In tonight's final of the blue riband event, Popov and Van den Hoogenband will go head to head for the title. The Dutchman's victory yesterday is significant because it gives him the confidence to race the man who has never been beaten in a major championship final in this event since 1991.

Popov, the only man since Johnny Weissmuller to win two consecutive Olympic 100 freestyle titles, is the current world record holder and has recorded half of the 25 best times in this event. And he has achieved all this despite a near fatal stabbing incident in Moscow after the Atlanta Games in 1996. Gavin Meadows from the City of Leeds is the Briton with nothing to lose in the event.

Sue Rolph cruised into the final of the women's event. Rolph, swimming well within herself, is ranked second fastest and has withdrawn from the 200 individual medley, also today, to focus on winning the 100 freestyle.

Joining her will be Karen Pickering, who last night anchored the women's 4x200m relay team, and, in a thrilling finish, narrowly missed winning the bronze medal, but did do enough to establish a British record of 8:08.00.

With a three-second deficit to make up, Pickering paced herself almost to perfection.

"I knew it would be hard at the end because the others were fighting for their own medals but it was annoying to get so close," she said.

There was disappointment, also, for Britain's backstrokers. The Commonwealth champions, Katy Sexton and Martin Harris, could only manage fourth and sixth respectively.

Hopeful for medals here in the 200m event, the 17-year-old Sexton has the benefit of youth and now international experience at the highest level. At 30, Harris has only his experience to know that in the 100m, yesterday was just not his day.

Helen Don-Duncan finished seventh behind Sexton. An Italian won the 100 metres breaststroke in style on a night where five different national anthems were played for each of the five individual events.

A truly European championships embraced its community in a city famed for its fusion of international cultures. In yesterday's synchronised platform diving, Leon Taylor and Peter Waterfield won bronze.

Synchronised diving is a visually spectacular event that will be included in the Olympics for the first time next year. "We made no mistakes today," Taylor said. "And we will be training together a lot more now for Sydney."

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