Australians and US share swimming spoils

August 10th, 2008 - 1:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 10 (DPA) The long-awaited medal clash between the US and Australia ended in a draw on the first day of the Olympic swimming competition Sunday, with each taking gold and setting a world record. US superstar Michael Phelps stayed on course for an unprecedented eight gold medals with victory in the men’s 400m individual medley in world record time, while Australian Stephanie Rice shaved nearly two seconds off the world record in the women’s 400m medley.

There were also gold medals for South Korea’s Park Taeh Wan in the men’s 400m freestyle and the Netherlands in the women’s 4×100m freestyle.

In the first event of the day, Phelps proved far too strong for the rest of the field as his time of 4 minutes 3.84 seconds beat his previous best mark of 4:05.25 at the US trials in Omaha on June 29

He announced afterwards that he would no longer swim the event. “I told my coach Bob Bowman that this would be my last 400 IM, so I’ve got to go out there and get a good time. And this was a good time.”

It was his seventh Olympic gold overall and a 23rd world record.

Hungarian Laszlo Cseh grabbed silver in a European record 4:06.16, while Phelps’ friend and compatriot Ryan Lochte the bronze in 4:08.09 in front of a huge crowd, including US President George W Bush.

Phelps said the first thing he saw as he put his head out of the water was the president waving a flag. “That was a very emotional moment.

“I’m very excited, it was a really good way to start.”

He said he would relax before his next swim. “Eat, sleep and swim. That’s all I can do. Get some calories into my system and try to recover the best I can.”

Park became the first South Korean to claim an Olympic swimming gold, underlining his supremacy in the men’s 400m freestyle in 3:41.86, well off Australian Ian Thorpe’s world record 3:40.08.

Zhang Lin grabbed silver for hosts China in 3:42.44 while the fastest man of the heats, American Larsen Jensen, had to be content with bronze in 3:42.78.

Park, who won the event at the world championships in Melbourne last year, said he went into the race without a specific strategy.

“I thought at first I shouldn’t lag behind the other swimmers too much, so I could keep pace with the others.

“I have to thank my parents for this. I have always had their support and the support of the Korean people.”

In the women’s 400m medley, Rice reclaimed the world record as she became the first Australian to win Olympic gold in the event since Gail Neall in 1972 in Munich.

Rice clocked 4 minutes 29.45 seconds for her first major title, while Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe was also below the previous record with 4:29.89 for silver.

Favourite Katie Hoff had to settle for bronze in 4:31.71 and also lost the world record of 4:31.12 she swam on June 29 at the US trials.

Rice said she was focused on her own race. “I wasn’t thinking about the end of the race, it’s more about the process. “It’s an amazing achievement, it hasn’t kicked in yet. I’ve really given it my all.”

The final gold medal of the session went to the Dutch women’s 4×100m relay team of Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Femke Heemskerk and Marleen Veldhuis.

The four swimmers, sporting brightly coloured orange fingernails, won in a time of 3:33.76, beating the US, who were 0.57 seconds off the pace and Australia, who finished in 3:35.05.

Dara Torres, the 41-year-old mother of one who anchored the US team, became the oldest swimmer in the history of the Olympic Games to win a medal.

She first competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 - when most most of the other swimmers in Sunday’s relay were not even born. It was her 10th Olympic medal.

In the women’s 100m butterfly semi-final, favourites Jessicah Schipper and Lisbeth Trickett of Australia moved comfortably into the finals, with American Christine Magnuson pushing in between them.

Norwegian Alexander Dale Oen, who on Saturday in the heats broke the Olympic record, did so again on Sunday in the semi-finals as he qualified for Monday’s finals in a time of 59.16 seconds.

Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, who is one of the favourites, won his heat to go through.

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