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Russia's Popov comes up short in two events

8/19/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- American Gary Hall Jr., the defending
Olympic champion, and teammate Jason Lezak qualified for the
50-meter freestyle semifinals Thursday, but two of their biggest
rivals failed to advance.

Two-time Olympic champion Alexander Popov of Russia and Pieter
van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands, the 2000 bronze medalist,
didn't make the 16-man evening semifinal.

Americans Michael Phelps and Ian Crocker moved on to the evening
100 butterfly semifinal, while Diana Munz and Kalyn Keller made the
800 freestyle final, set for Friday.

Popov, 32, tied for 18th with a time of 22.58 seconds -- well off
the world record of 21.64 he set in June 2000. Van den Hoogenband,
the 100 free gold medalist, was 17th in 22.56 -- just
three-hundredths of a second out of the last berth.

Hall, who tied teammate Anthony Ervin for gold at the Sydney
Games and finished second to Popov in 1996, was fastest in 22.04.

Frederick Bousquet of France was second in 22.24 and Bart
Kizierowski of Poland was third in 22.26. Kizierowski trains with
Hall in Berkeley, Calif.

Jason Lezak of Irvine, Calif., was seventh in 22.33.

The results were as surprising as the 100 free, when Popov was
eliminated in the semifinals, Lezak and teammate Ian Crocker were
knocked out in the preliminaries, and Hall didn't qualify in the
event at the U.S. trials.

Popov became the first man to win consecutive 50 freestyle
Olympic titles when he won at Barcelona in 1992 and at Atlanta four
years later.

Van den Hoogenband blamed his failure in the 50 on the exciting
aftermath of his victory in the 100 freestyle Wednesday night. He
got about four hours' sleep, staring at the ceiling of his room
before stepping out on the balcony to see the sights.

"It was such a big night for me,'' he said. "I am so very
happy.''

And not surprised about his early elimination.

"I was not focused. I knew this could happen,'' the Dutchman
said. "Yesterday I was so happy. I don't care about the 50.''

Van den Hoogenband could hardly make his way around the
athletes' village, the bus and the pool without being stopped by
admirers.

"When I went to the dining room, they were standing up and
cheering for me,'' he said. "When I got on the bus, everyone was
saying, 'Yeah, Pieter.' Everywhere it was, 'Yeah, Pieter.'
Finally, I was like, 'What am I doing today? Oh yeah, the 50.' ''

Van den Hoogenband was approached for autographs in the minutes
before he walked on deck to race.

"When I got on the starting blocks, I was like,'Focus, focus,
focus,' but I couldn't,'' he said.

In the men's 100 butterfly, Phelps took a back seat to Crocker,
who set the world record at last month's U.S. trials. Crocker, of
Portland, Maine, was fastest in 52.03 and Phelps was third in
52.35.

Andriy Serdinov of Ukraine was second in 52.05. Geoff Huegill of
Australia, the 2000 bronze medalist, was fifth.

Munz, of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and Keller of Phoenix, will try to
extend America's dominance in the 800 freestyle. Munz was
fourth-fastest in 8 minutes, 30.87 seconds; Keller was sixth in
8:32.61.

The United States has won the event in five straight Olympics,
including titles in 1988 and 1992 by Janet Evans, whose 15-year-old
world record still stands, and Brooke Bennett, who won in 1996 and
2000, but didn't make the team for Athens.

"I hope to keep it rolling,'' Munz said.

Laure Manaudou of France, who won the 400 freestyle in Athens,
qualified first in 8:25.91 and Rebecca Cooke of Britain was second
in 8:28.47.

In the women's 200 backstroke, Stanislava Komarova of Russia was
fastest in 2:10.71. Reiko Nakamura of Japan was second in 2:11.14.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, silver medalist in the 100 back in
Athens, was third in 2:12.49.

Margaret Hoelzer, of Huntsville, Ala., was fourth in 2:12.55.
Kristen Caverly, of San Clemente, Calif., didn't advance after
finishing 17th in 2:15.34 -- missing the last semifinal spot by 0.31
seconds.