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World Swimming Championships

Times Staff Writer

Times staff writer Lisa Dillman’s second-day highlights from Melbourne, Australia:

1. ALMOST PERFECT: Morning preliminaries are about taking care of business, a fine line for the often edgy swimmers. With one exception, the U.S. team managed to find that balance on Day 2. Natalie Coughlin had the fastest qualifying time in the prelims of the 100-meter backstroke, as did Tara Kirk in the 100 breaststroke and Hayley Peirsol in the 1,500 freestyle. Newly turned pro Jessica Hardy had the fifth-fastest time in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.68), having to deal with her swimming cap slipping and then falling off during the race.

2. I DON’T LIKE MONDAYS: Unfortunately for Klete Keller, things did not improve on the second day of the championships. He finished 18th in the morning preliminaries in the 200 freestyle, in 1 minute 49.58 seconds. Only the top 16 move on to the semifinals. On the opening day, he failed to make the finals of the 400 freestyle. “It’s just bad swimming, plain and simple,” Keller said. "...It felt like I was going downhill slowly and then it kind of snowballed and got progressively worse as the season went on.”

3. SPLIT TIME: Almost overlooked in the patriotic flag-waving over the winning Australian women’s 400 freestyle relay was a split time for the fourth-place team. German star Britta Steffen’s anchor leg of 52.65 was the fastest relay split time in history. She held the previous mark of 52.66, established when the German women set the world record in the relay in July.

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*--* MEDAL TABLE

*--*

* United States: One gold, one silver.

* Australia: One gold, one bronze.

*

TODAY’S TOP RACE

* Men’s 200 freestyle: There will be no repeat of the three-way 2004 Olympic battle among Michael Phelps, Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands and Ian Thorpe of Australia because of the latter’s sudden retirement last year.

But Phelps vs. the Dutchman isn’t a shabby replacement. Phelps finished third behind Thorpe and van den Hoogenband in Athens in what was, perhaps a bit breathlessly, called the Race of the Century. They had the two fastest qualifying times in the morning prelims on Day 2. Van den Hoogenband went 1:47.36 to Phelps’ 1:47.52.

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That van den Hoogenband is even swimming again is impressive. The swimmer had a back hernia and needed surgery after the Olympics and missed the 2005 World Championships.

His personal coach Jacco Verhaeren thought his swimmer’s career might be over: “These things can go really wrong.” He then put the pressure on the other camp, saying: “I think Michael Phelps is the favorite.”


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