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ATHENS, 15 August â The South African Menâs 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay team proved that Australia and the United States are not the only superpowers at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games when they won gold and set a world record Sunday night at the Olympic Aquatic Centre.
Led out by Roland SCHOEMAN, who set a quick pace, clocking 48.17 for his 100 metres, the South African team of Lyndon FERNS, Darian TOWNSEND and anchor Ryk NEETHLING finished in a time of 3:13.17 to lower the old mark set by Australia at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games by 0.50 seconds.
The Netherlands finished second, 1.19 behind the South Africans, in a time of 3:14.36, thanks to a strong anchor leg by Olympic gold medallist Pieter van den HOOGENBAND.
The United States, a force in the 4 x100m Freestyle Relay from 1964 until 1996, had to settle for bronze, finishing in a time of 3:14.62.
In the first final of the night, Australiaâs Petria THOMAS proved that two shoulder reconstructions and a year on the sidelines was not enough to stop her from overcoming reigning Olympic champion Inge de BRUIJN to win her first individual gold medal at these Games.
Turning second behind world record holder de BRUIJN at the 50-metre mark, THOMAS left it until the final three metres to move into the lead and take gold ahead of Polandâs Otylia JEDRZEJCZAK and de BRUIJN in a time of 57.72.
JEDRZEJCZAK finished in a time of 57.84 to win silver and de BRUIJN was third in 57.99.
In the Menâs 100m Breaststroke Final, Japanâs Kosuke KITAJIMA ruined any chances of gold birthday celebrations for current world record holder Brendan HANSEN (USA), by beating him to the wall to claim gold in a time of 1:00.08.
HANSEN, who turned 23 today, had the fastest reaction time off the blocks and turned first at the 50-metre mark with a time of 28.22.
It was KITAJIMA, however, who showed more determination down the stretch to swim a 31.82 in the final 50 metres to win his first Olympic medal and improve on his fourth-place performance from the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
HANSEN finished 0.17 behind KITAJIMA in a time of 1:00.25 and Franceâs Hugues DUBOSCQ was third in 1:00.88.
The Womenâs 400m Freestyle was the only other final on night two of competition and it was the youngest competitor in the field, Laure MANAUDOU (FRA), who led from start to finish to win her first Olympic gold medal in 4:05.34.
Polandâs Otylia JEDRZEJCZAK backed up from her silver medal winning performance in the Womenâs 100m Butterfly earlier in the night to win a second silver with a time of 4:05.84.
Kaitlin SANDENO (USA) finished third in 4:06.19 and in doing so won her second Olympic medal of these Games. She also won silver in the Womenâs 400m Individual Medley.
In the nightâs semifinals, Natalie COUGHLIN (USA) was the fastest qualifier in the Womenâs 100m Backstroke, swimming 1.00.17 to enter Mondayâs final as clear favourite.
She will face strong competition from MANAUDOU, a gold medallist in Sunday night's 400m Freestyle and second fastest qualifier in with a time of 1:00.88, and the reigning world champion Antje BUSCHSCHULTE (GER), who qualified third fastest in a time of 1:00.94
In the Menâs 200m Freestyle semifinals, the reigning Olympic champion Pieter van den HOOGENBAND (NED) dominated Semifinal 1 and made it look effortless as he led from start to finish to win in a time of 1:46.00. Klete KELLER also impressed, finishing second in 1:47.28.
In the most anticipated match-up of the night, Michael PHELPS (USA), Ian THORPE (AUS) and Grant HACKETT (AUS) faced each other in Semifinal 2 of the Menâs 200m Freestyle.
THORPE lead from start to finish in the race and looked to be holding something back to win in a time of 1:46.65. He was followed by PHELPS in 1:47.08 and HACKETT third in 1:47.61.
Monday night's final will be hotly contested with van den HOOGENBAND (NED), THOPRE (AUS) and PHELPS filling the top three qualifying positions. KELLER and HACKETT will need to swim at their best to challenge these three for a minor medal.
In the Womenâs 100m Breaststroke, Australian Leisel JONES was the only swimmer to go under 1:07, and her 1:06.78 in Sunday's semifinal ranks her as favourite for Monday nightâs final.
Sarah POEWE (GER) was the second fastest qualifier in a time of 1:07.48 and Tara KIRK (USA) rounds out the top 3 with a qualifying time of 1:07.60.
In the Menâs 100m Backstroke, Aaron PEIRSOL was the fastest qualifier in a time of 54.34, followed closely by Austriaâs Markus ROGAN (54.42) and Japanâs Tomomi MORITA third in 54.62.
Reigning Olympic champion and world record holder Lenny KRAYZELBURG qualified fourth fastest in a time of 54.63 and will need to perform as he did at the Sydney Games if he is to challenge PEIRSOL for the gold.
Competition begins on Monday, 16 August at 10:00.
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