Setting a blistering pace over the first quarter of the 400 metres freestyle here yesterday, the Briton was looking for his third gold medal of the European Championships, but was overtaken by two of Italy's finest.
The 19-year-old Emiliano Brembilla became the third fastest man of all time when he won gold in 3min 45.96sec. His team-mate, Massimiliano Ro- solino, who was also second in the 200m on Tuesday, took the silver.
"I don't like making excuses but I was worn out," the 22-year-old Palmer said. "I knew after the heats that I was in trouble. I felt really rough. I knew this morning it just wasn't on. I felt so powerful on Tuesday I felt I could have done it then."
Palmer had said he would go home disappointed if he did not win his specialist event, despite taking gold in the 200m freestyle and the 4x200m relay. However his feelings changed about the bronze medal, which meant that Ian Black's 1958 record of three golds in one championship remained intact.
"I can't be disappointed with bronze," said Palmer, whose problems had been compounded by his exhausting progamme and a lack of sleep, an essential part of a swimmer's vital rest and recuperation. "I haven't been able to sleep very well all week and it's just caught up with me," he said.
Stockport's Graeme Smith finished sixth in the same event, but his performance in the heats will give him confidence for the 1,500m today. Smith is the Olympic bronze medallist in the event and will face Brembilla over the longest event in the programme.
In the final event last night, Alexander Popov, the Russian rocket who won the 100m freestyle in such dramatic fashion on Thursday, led the Russian 4x100m freestyle relay team to a new European record. The time of 3:16.85 beat their own time recorded in Atlanta last year.
In a thrilling race for bronze, the Netherlands just managed to hold off Britain and Sweden. The British quartet of Nicholas Shackell, James Salter, Gavin Meadows and Mark Foster clocked a time of 3:21.15sec to beat the old British record by 0.19 of a second.
In the women's 100m breaststroke Jaime King again went close to her personal best but could do little about the superb swim of the Hungarian, Agnes Kovacs, who won in a time of 1:08.08sec.
King finished eighth but could be satisfied with her week's work after making two finals and setting a new British record in the 200m breaststroke.
Ireland's Michelle De Bruin maintained her Princess Diana-like ability to steal headlines despite not dipping a toe in the water. She withdrew from today's 200m individual medley, an event in which she won one of three gold medals in Atlanta last year, complaining of being tired and the pool being too hot.
De Bruin - the former Michelle Smith - has only the 200m butterfly left to swim tomorrow, which means she will not be able to match the record of four individual European golds set by the former East German Ute Geweniger in 1981 and Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi in 1993.
Yesterday, no Briton swam faster in the finals than in the heats and the team is in need of a boost. Today is one of the strongest for the men and expectations are high for Mark Foster in the 50m freestyle. Racing against Popov, gold is unlikely for Foster but he knows he is capable of silver.
Barnet Copthall's Neil Willey leads the European rankings in the 100m backstroke and he and the Commonwealth champion, Martin Harris have a good chance of medals.Reuse content