Ukrainian Denis Silantiev had the lead for three lengths, with Franck Esposito, FRA, biding his time in second. On the fourth length Esposito changed gears and blew past Silantiev with 25 metres to go, finishing in 1:57.24, a personal best and French national record.
Silantiev took the silver in 1:58.48, while Stephen Parry, GBR, took the bronze in 1:58.78.
Six years after his first European title, an elated Esposito said, "It's such a pleasure to win this. My first title (in 1991) came so quickly, and at a time when I had relatively little opposition. I was practically sure I would win. But last week, I wasn't sure of anything. This is probably the best title I've ever won because it may be the last one, and I've been through hell to get it."
Double silver medallist Martina Moravcova, SVK, lost her shot at another gold by finishing second after leading the race in the fly leg, falling behind in the back and breast, and not quite catching up in the freestyle.
Swimming in lane 2 and a virtual unknown, Oxana Verevka was the surprise winner in 2:14.72. The 19-year-old swam backstroke for the Ukraine at the 1993 European Championships in Sheffield but was representing Russia for the first time in Sevilla. Moravcova was second in 2:15.02, while Yana Klochkova, UKR, a winner at the European Juniors three weeks ago, was third in 2:15.03.
Moravcova's time was a personal best but she was understandably disappointed with having missed another title. "I was pretty relaxed in the morning and felt better than yesterday. I expected to win it, but then again, anybody could, and I knew my competition would come from Rolph and Klochkova."
Alexander Popov reigns as the undisputed sprint Tsar with number one rankings for 1997 in both the 50 and the 100.
Despite a false start, he never lost his concentration and was in the lead from the start. Working on his technique all the way, he surged to the finish in 22.30. "It's not my fastest time or my fastest race," said Popov afterward. "It's only a training time. Competition is the best swimming training, and I'm still training here for Perth. Things are moving in the right direction."
Mark Foster of Great Britain was second in 22.53. He commented on his rival, "I'd had thoughts of winning it, but he's brilliant. It's three years until the Olympic Games. I'll be 30 and he'll be 29 (really 28). I hope to get it right then. I nearly got it right today."
Swimming in his first European Championships, new sprint find Julien Sicot of France touched for the bronze in 22.78, topping off a brilliant evening for France with his first major medal. "I'm glad to be on the podium with these guys," he said. "I still have a lot of progress to make technically."
Carla Geurts of the Netherlands had the lead up until the 500 metre mark when Kerstin Kielgass, GER, edged ahead, gradually increasing her lead to touch in 8:34.41.
Geurts was second in 8:36.14, taking three seconds off her personal best time. Jana Henke, GER, was third in 8:39.93.
Ten years ago the winning time was 8:19.53, twenty years ago it was 8:38.32; evidently there has been little evolution.
Spanish fans got their money's worth as Martin Lopez-Zubero, in what could be his last swim on Spanish soil, reclaimed his European title, in 55.71. He touched just ahead of top qualifier Eitan Urbach, ISR, who finished second in 55.88.
Vladimir Selkov, swimming in lane one, had an apparent lead with a few metres to go, but had to settle for third in 55.97.
Lopez-Zubero first won the 100 backstroke European title in 1989. "I'm very happy to win my fourth European title," said the 28-year-old. "I know the time was very poor, but I've tapered twice this month, once for the Spanish Championships, and once for this. I only realized I had won at the touch. The first 50 metres were poor because I had a bad start." As to whether he'll compete in Perth, he said he would discuss it with his father and brother, who share his coaching.
Lopez-Zubero's distinguished carreer has included an Olympic gold in the 200 backstroke in Barcelona 1992, and he's still the current world record holder in the event.
Germany had the lead throughout the race; the Russian team was surprisingly strong, challenging on the freestyle leg.
Hungary had a relatively weak team, but Agnes Kovacs' breaststroke leg of 1:07.97 was two seconds faster than anyone else in the pool and moved them into medal contention after her leg. They finished seventh.