Heavily favoured Sandra Völker, GER, took an early lead off the start, turning first at the 50 in 26.59. Teammate Antje Buschschulte, challenged for up to 75 metres, but Völker increased her kick to power ahead, winning her first European title in 55.38.
Martina Moravcova, SVK, came hard into the touch for second (55.46) as relative newcomer Buschschulte held on for third with 55.50.
There was little reaction from the crowd, making the race somewhat anti-climactic, but Völker confirmed her supremacy in the event, and achieved her year-long goal of becoming European champion. "I had hopes for a medal, and doing my best time got me the gold," she said simply, satisfied.
Silver medallist Moravcova commented, "I'm disappointed because this second place is the same as I had in Sheffield four years ago. I've been preparing for this race for a long time."
Buschschulte, who was a surprise winner over Völker at the German Nationals in July, said, "I was really hoping for a better placing. In a race this short there isn't any room for error."
The morning session was marred by the disqualifications of Andrei Korneev, RUS, and Thomas Schmolt, GER; both swimmers rolled into the second start, and when they learned that they were out, an ugly scene ensued. Schmolt hung around protesting, and actually tried to get back on the block for the third start before a judge made it clear the decision was final. Korneev stalked off, and ended up doing an unofficial time trial at the end of the session to swim a qualifying time for Perth.
Later in the final Jens Kruppa, GER, whose coach Uwe Neumann was under fire not only for his doping history in the former GDR, but also for his having been an unofficial collaborator for the Stasi, held the early lead and turned first at the 50 in 29.10. However, he faded gradually out of contention to wind up seventh, well off his 1:01.91 from the German Nationals in July.
Alexander Goukov, BLR, paced his race perfectly, only fourth at the 50 with a 29.45, but finished strongly to touch just ahead of veteran Hungarian Karoly Guttler, in 1:02.17. "It's my personal best," he said, "I really didn't expect to win. I'm proud to be the first from my country to win a gold at the Europeans."
While he also fought to the finish, Guttler's silver-medal time of 1:02.23 showed evidence of a slow-down, "I would have preferred to win," he said simply. Guttler won this event in 1993 with 1:01.04.
Daniel Malek, CZE, was third with a personal best of 1:02.27.
Fifteen year-old Yana Klochkova, UKR, the European Junior Champion, qualified first, with Olympic gold medallist Michelle de Bruin (formerly Smith), IRL, challenging from lane six.
De Bruin took the lead in the fly with a 1:02.47 split and held a tiny lead at the 200, with Klochkova and Sabine Herbst of Germany closing in.
On the breaststroke leg Klochkova pulled ahead, turning first at the 300 (3:37.63), with de Bruin second (3:38.35).
They battled it out on the freestyle leg, with de Bruin taking the lead on the last length, and once comfortably in the lead seemingly easing at the finish to touch in 4:42.08 for the gold. "I've spent the last six months doing other things than train," she said. "I decided in April to swim here. It should be a good lead-up towards Perth."
De Bruin went straight to Doping Control and failed to show up for the press conference, which, according to LEN General Secretary Harm Beyer, is against the rules. "Every competitor winning a medal must take part in the victory ceremony," said Beyer earlier in the week. "And by the victory ceremony I mean from the entry onto the pool deck to the press conference. This is stated in the rules, and a swimmer who does not attend could be disqualified. When we build up an event like this it gives us the obligation to allow at least one occasion for journalists to contact the swimmers." Smith de Bruin was issued a warning and missed no further conferences.
Klochkova, with a personal best of 4:43.07, has to be the revelation of the European season. "It's my best time and I'm very happy to win a silver!" she said.
Hana Cerna, CZE, took third with 4:44.05, a new national record. She finished fourth in 1995. "I was lucky to win a bronze because my knee has been bothering me for some time."
Once again the Germans had a problem staying on the block, and whether it was the tense atmosphere surrounding their team or the intense heat (Keller said simply, "I was too hot!"), Stefan Pohl and Christian Keller were promptly disqualified.
In the final the top qualifier from the prelims, Massimiliano Rosolino, ITA, held the lead throughout the first three lengths, but was challenged by Paul Palmer, GBR, in lane three on the last length. Palmer touched first in 1:48.85. Ironically, in 1993 he placed fourth in the same race with a marginally faster time of 1:48.84.
After a promising morning swim, Rosolino had to settle for second place with 1:49.02.
Top seed Bela Szabados of Hungary did not equal his seasonal best, but took third with a 1:49.98 from lane one.
Given the winning time, the standard of European freestyle was off markedly this year.
A surprisingly inspired Swedish team took the lead on the second lap and held it until the 750, when favoured Germany closed in for the gold.
Sweden took second with 8:04.53 and Denmark third in 8:07.26.
The comment from German anchor Antje Buschschulte, swimming her second race of the evening, was, "We expected to win and we've been working towards the gold." Buschschulte's split of 1:58.74 was the only sub-2:00 relay leg.
The Swedes were happy with their lot, saying, "We thought the gold was out of reach, given the strength of the German team."
"We didn't expect to win any medal," said a happy Danish team. "We're pleased with the bronze."