Thorpe takes sixth gold of swim championships

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

FUKUOKA, Japan -- Ian Thorpe savored his sixth gold medal of the World Swimming Championships Saturday, while the United States team was embarrassed by another disqualification.

In one of the most dramatic races of the meet, the ''Thorpedo'' barely beat American Anthony Ervin at the end of the 400-meter medley relay.

Then the Americans were disqualified for an early takeoff by Ervin. It was their third disqualification in five relays so far. National team director Dennis Pursley acknowledged that Ervin jumped too soon.

So instead of a .07-second victory over the Americans, the Aussies ended up with a nearly one-second margin over silver medalist Germany.

The victory capped a three-gold night for Australia, which led with 11 golds to nine for the Americans with one day left.

Thorpe became the first man in nine World Championships to win six golds. He finished with three relay golds plus victories -- and world records --in the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle races.

The United States salvaged some pride when Natalie Coughlin, recovered from shoulder problems that troubled her for two years, ended the backstroke winning streak of Romania's Diana Mocanu, beating her by 0.31 seconds over 100 meters. Mocanu had won both the 100 and 200 at the Olympics and the 200 here.

The Aussie relay team won in 3 minutes, 35.35 seconds, breaking the meet record of 3:37.56 set by an American team in morning heats, where neither Thorpe nor Ervin swam.

In the latest problem with the timing equipment, the results were not announced for several minutes after the race.

Thorpe started 0.22 seconds ahead of Ervin, fell behind by 0.7 halfway through the leg, then beat him at the end. The Americans finished at 3:35.42, the Germans at 3:36.34 and bronze medalist Russia at 3:37.77.

Ervin had overshadowed a duel between Thorpe and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband by beating both for the gold medal in the 100 freestyle final Friday.

But after Saturday's relay, he was lamenting, ''I missed my turn completely. I made a mistake, so it's all my fault.''

Another American disqualification had been for listing the wrong swimmer in the lineup. One still being debated was for what the timing equipment showed was an early start by one swimmer in the women's 800-meter freestyle relay Wednesday.

The Americans insisted that videotape showed a proper start. On Saturday, they joined coaches from 13 other nations in denouncing FINA, swimming's world governing body, for the way it has handled timing problems.

Earlier, Australian Geoff Huegill won gold in the 50 butterfly.

Huegill had broken his world record by 0.16 seconds with a time of 23.44 in the semifinals. In the gold medal race, he finished in 23.50, to 23.57 for Sweden's Lars Frolander, the 100 butterfly winner here and at the Olympics.

Petria Thomas, atoning for an ill-timed celebration that cost Australia a relay gold, won her second gold, taking the women's 100 butterfly in a championships record 58.27. She previously had won at 200 meters.

American Mary Descenza finished fourth at 59.30.

After Australia finished first in the 800 freestyle relay, Thomas jumped into the pool in celebration before the last rival swimmer had finished, and the Australians were disqualified.

''This is fantastic,'' said Thomas, whose time beat the meet record of 58.46 set by American Jenny Thompson in 1998.

She didn't have to contend with Olympic triple gold medalist Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands, who withdrew from the 100 butterfly because the final was on the same night as the 50 freestyle semifinals.

De Bruijn, on course for her third world championship gold, had just set a meet record of 24.45 -- 0.06 under the old mark -- in semifinals for the 50 freestyle. She still was behind her world record of 24.13.

Sweden's Therese Alshammar was second-fastest of the eight advancing to Sunday night's final at 24.87. American teammates Tammie Stone and Haley Cope were third- and sixth-fastest.

In the women's backstroke, Coughlin started at world record pace but finished 0.21 slower in 1:00.37. Mocanu took silver at 1:00.68.

Coughlin also has a bronze from the 50 backstroke here, but was a member of the 800 freestyle relay that was denied victory by the disqualification.

Germany's Hannah Stockbauer, already a winner at 800 meters, led for the last 1,100 meters on her way to gold in the women's 1,500, a new event at the World Championships. She finished at 16:01.02.

Switzerland's Flavia Rigamonti pulled ahead of American Diana Munz in the final 150 meters and took silver at 16:05.99. Munz was third at 16:07.05.

Germany's Mark Warnecke was fastest in semifinals for the men's 50 breaststroke at 27.59, 0.19 ahead of Russia's Roman Sloudnov, winner and world record-holder in the 100. American Ed Moses, who holds the world record of 27.39 in the 50, was third-fastest at 27.90.

The coaches complaining to FINA in a signed letter demanded, among other things, that the appeals jury review all evidence, including videotapes, when considering protests.

The Americans have said the jury refused to look at tape of the women's 800 relay race, insisting the timing equipment ''worked perfectly.''

Seiko admitted times were incorrect in 10 races and no times had been automatically registered for swimmers in six other cases, including the men's 100 freestyle final, forcing organizers to rely on backup video.

FINA Bureau member and spokesman Sam Ramsamy said the timing problem was serious, but said there was ''no such thing as 100 percent certainty.''

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