Hall can't rival Popov American 2nd again, edged in 50 freestyle

Atlanta Olympics

July 26, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- Gary Hall Jr. could not get the Russian bear off his back last night. He swam another heart-stopping race and suffered another heartbreaking loss to perennial sprint champion Alexander Popov in the Olympic 50-meter freestyle at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Hall, who twice lost to Popov at the 1994 world championships in Rome and was out-touched at the wall in the 100-meter freestyle earlier this week, was dead set on ending the cocky Russian's domination of the short sprints last night. But he got no advantage off the starting block and came up about a tenth of a second short of the gold medal.

It was the most exciting race of a very eventful evening. American 16-year-old Brooke Bennett raced to a gold medal in the women's 800-meter freestyle and distance great Janet Evans retired after finishing a disappointing sixth in the same race. The U.S. women won a second gold in the 800 freestyle relay, and 25-year-old Whitney Hedgepeth won her second silver medal of the games in the 200-meter backstroke.

The night session began with an emotional farewell performance by Evans, who received several loud ovations in the course of her Olympic swan song, but the atmosphere became even more charged when Hall and Popov marched onto the pool deck for their second sprint showdown.

Popov loves to play head games, but he did not try to stare down Hall the way he did in Rome and -- to a lesser extent -- in Monday's 100-meter final. Both were all business as they stepped to the starting platform.

Hall is known for his explosive start, and he used it two days earlier on the way to a world-record split in the men's 400-meter freestyle relay, but he did not take advantage of it when it would have meant the most. He hit the water at the same time as Popov, but surfaced slightly behind in a race where even the smallest mistake can play very large in the outcome.

Still, he refused to display any disappointment after the race, choosing instead to compliment his opponent and the rest of the field.

"I was definitely pushing to win the race," Hall said, "but coming in second again, it was such a great race and that's what the Olympics are all about. What people saw here was the fastest field in the history of the Olympics, so I don't think that anyone can be disappointed."

Popov won his fourth Olympic gold medal. Hall got his second silver. Brazilian Fernando Scherer finished third to take the bronze.

Hall truly seems to enjoy the rivalry, even though his only victories have come in the relays, where he consistently has swum faster splits. Perhaps the loss last night would have been more frustrating if Popov had not hinted that he might stay tTC around another four years and give his brash American counterpart one more chance to unseat him.

"If you win the Olympics one time, you're good," Popov said. "Win the Olympics two times, you're great. Win the Olympics three times, you're history."

He has won two times, but he would be 28 when the next Olympics are held in Sydney, Australia. Hall, who will be 25 in 2000, would be much closer to his prime.

The men's team suffered a second disappointment in the 200-meter individual medley, when multi-medal hope Tom Dolan finished well out of contention for the second time since winning a gold medal in the 400-meter individual medley on Sunday night.

The women's relay team held off a strong challenge from Germany in the first 800-meter women's relay event in Olympic history.

Franziska van Almsick, the world-record holder in the 200-meter free, edged Florida's Trina Jackson in the opening leg, but No. 2 swimmer Cristina Teuscher made up the difference and the U.S. team went on to win by nearly two seconds. Australia finished nearly six seconds behind the Americans to win the bronze.

Games glance

Medals leaders

........... G .. S .... B .. Tot.

..... 12 .. 16 ... 4 ... 32

Russia ... 13 ... 7 ... 5 ... 25

Germany ... 3 ... 8 .. 11 ... 22

France .... 7 ... 4 ... 7 ... 18

China ..... 5 ... 5 ... 6 ... 16

Italy ..... 5 ... 4 ... 4 ... 13

Cuba ...... 3 ... 4 ... 5 ... 12

Australia.. 3 ... 2 ... 7 ... 12

Poland .... 5 ... 3 ... 2 ... 10

Hungary ... 3 ... 2 ... 5 ... 10

On TV

(Channels 11, 4)

10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Track and field

Swimming: Qualifying heats

Equestrian: Three-day jumping, individual

Rowing: Semifinals

Cycling

7: 30 p.m.-midnight

Track and field

Swimming: Finals (women's 200 butterfly, men's 200 backstroke, women's 50 freestyle, men's 1,500 freestyle, men's 400 medley relay)

Men's basketball: U.S. vs. China

Diving: Women's platform

Women's volleyball: U.S. vs. Japan

Canoeing: Whitewater training

12: 41-2: 11 a.m.

Women's volleyball: U.S. vs. Japan

Boxing

Water polo: Quarterfinals

Cycling

Weightlifting: Light heavyweight final

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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