Russian foe just touch better than Hall at wall Popov tops U.S. rival by .07 of second in 100 free

Atlanta Olympics

July 23, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Gary Hall Jr. tried to play it down, but he wanted badly to unseat Russian world-record holder Aleksandr Popov in last night's Olympic 100-meter freestyle at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Popov, after all, has been known to pop off.

"When I am at the top of my game, nobody can beat me," Popov said at the 1994 World Championships in Rome, "and when I am not at the top of my game, nobody can beat me."

Hall wanted to prove him wrong last night, but he came up just inches short in a finish that left him again standing on the second-place platform, though it was a little easier with a silver medal around his neck.

"I was just happy to finish and be on the awards stand," said Hall, who lost both the 50- and 100-meter freestyle to Popov at the World Championships. "To be second to the world-record holder is really exciting. It was my best finish ever and I am happy."

That may be true, but he would have been much happier to put one over on the cocky Russian, who again tried to stare him down at the starting platforms the way he did in Rome. Hall ignored him and nearly outraced him, finishing in a personal-best 48.81 and falling just seven one-hundredths of a second short of a gold medal.

"I think that the race with Alex came in with a lot of buildup," Hall said. "But he has shown nothing but class since he got here. I think it will be a big rivalry for years to come. I think it will help take both of us to new limits."

The U.S. team rode an emotional roller coaster throughout the third day of Olympic swim competition. The day started amid bitter controversy over a decision by the International Olympic Committee that indirectly kept American distance great Janet Evans out of the final in the 400-meter freestyle. It ended with a couple of gold-medal performances by the women and another U.S./Russian showdown in which Michigan swimmer Tom Malchow also fell short in his attempt to unseat a Russian world-record holder in the 200-meter butterfly.

The women's 4x100 relay team -- which included injured medal hope Amy Van Dyken -- put another dent in the diminishing reputation of the Chinese women's team with an Olympic- and American-record performance (3: 39.29).

It seemed like old times, with the United States and a couple of its former political rivals going nose-to-nose in several exciting races. Malchow was in last place after the first 50 meters, but he zTC came all the way back to finish second behind Denys Pankratov.

"I was expecting to be competitive," Malchow said. "I wanted to go out hard and take it to them in the second hundred and that's what I did."

It already has been a big competition for coach Jon Urbancek's University of Michigan swim program, which already has accounted for one gold (Tom Dolan) and two silver medals (Malchow and Eric Namesnik).

The U.S. team ranked first in the preliminary heats in the women's 4x100 freestyle relay and went on to the gold medal, but a medal by any U.S. relay team is not news. The American women have failed to win a medal in the 400 freestyle relay only twice in Olympic competition -- in 1912 and during the boycotted Games of 1980.

In fact, the United States has not been shut out of a medal in any men's or women's relay in a non-boycott situation since the 1912 Games in Stockholm.

The race had added significance because it marked the return of Van Dyken, who had to be carried off the deck on a stretcher after suffering severe leg cramps on the first day of competition.

For the first time in the Olympic competition, the preliminary heats did not produce a world-record performance.

Belgian Frederik DeBurghgraeve swam a 1: 00.60 to break Hungarian Karoly Guttler's record in the 100-meter breaststroke on the opening day of competition and South African Penelope Heyns broke her own world record in the women's 100-meter breaststroke with a 1: 07.02 clocking Sunday morning.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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