Swimming: Hardcastle qualifies

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The Independent Online
SARAH HARDCASTLE showed yesterday she is capable of mounting a challenge to Europe's leading distance freestylers. Seven years after her last appearance in the championships, Hardcastle, 24, marked her return to the ASA Nationals in Sheffield with the fourth fastest time in Europe this year as she took the 400 metres freestyle title in 4min 16.04sec.

The double Olympic medallist, who retired after winning a bronze medal at the 1986 world championships, resumed training last autumn and can now look forward to competing in the European championships, also in Sheffield, this summer, after finishing nearly four seconds inside the qualification time laid down by the British selectors.

Event winners in the nationals are guaranteed European selection providing they also achieve the qualifying time, and Graeme Smith (1500m freestyle), Grant Robins (400m medley) and Marie Hardiman (400m medley) also secured their places.

Smith gained a surprise victory over the 1991 European championship silver medallist Ian Wilson, and the 17-year-old from Stockport Metro set a new Scottish record of 15min 37.67sec.

Mark Foster, the world short- course record-holder for 50m butterfly, lowered his own British long-course record by 500ths of a second in taking the title in 24.86sec. Foster should also book his place on the team in today's 50m freestyle.