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Swimming: New wave get their heads down for the kill as Gateshead pools the sprint talent

DIRK VANDENHIRTZ, of Germany, competing in the men's 50m butterfly final at the European Sprint Swimming Championships in Gateshead yesterday. Vandenhirtz finished fifth, 0.52sec behind the winner, Carlos Sanchez, of Spain. The best British performance came from Karen Rake, who was competing in her first major championships, writes Anne Porter.

Rake, a 17-year-old schoolgirl from Buckinghamshire, won a silver medal in the 50m breaststroke. Rake said she felt slightly 'daunted by the opposition but I tried to block them out. If I didn't I knew I would rush my stroke and panic.'

Her main challengers were Sylvia Gerasch, the European 100m champion and former world record holder, Peggy Hartung, the 1991 champion and silver medallist 12 months ago, and Louise Karlsson, the defending champion and world record holder.

However, Rake took them on and only Gerasch managed to get the better of her. Rake's time of 31.89sec, a personal best, was just 0.32sec behind Gerasch and placed her joint runner-up with Hartung.

Relays in the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly were introduced in a major championship for the first time and the 4 x 50m backstroke proved to be farcical. It was decided that the rules for the event would be strictly adhered to, meaning that all four swimmers would start in the water.

As Britain's Helen Slatter approached the wall she collided with Susan Rolph and just managed to avoid disqualification. If the backstroke relay is to continue then the second, third and fourth swimmers must be allowed to dive in and turn over as requested by several of the coaches, including Britain's Dave Haller, at the technical meeting prior to the championships.

(Photograph omitted)