Russia's Popov comes up short in two events

Updated: August 19, 2004, 6:13 AM ET
Associated Press

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.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press