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Dutch Divas: WR 3:33.65 4x100 Free

Mar 18, 2008  - Craig Lord

The Dutch quartet of Inge Dekker, Ranomi Kromowidjoj, Femke Heemskerk and Marleen Veldhuis tore apart the world record in the 4x100m freestyle - 3:33.62 - in their home pool of Eindhoven to become the first Orange foursome to hold the global standard since 1936-1938. The European title seemed almost incidental: the Italy quartet was back on 3:41.06.

The previous world mark, of 3:35.22, was set by Germany at the European Championships two years ago in Budapest.

The Dutch splits: Dekker, 53.77; Kromowidjojo, 53.61; Heemskerk, 53.62, and Veldhuis, 52.62.

The German splits: Petra Dallmann, 54.53; Daniela Gotz, 53.87; Britta Steffen, 52.66; Annika Lurz (Liebs), 54.16.

Veldhuis's was the fastest split ever by 0.03 ahead of Britta Steffen (GER). You have to trawl back to the days of the Cold War between the German Democratic Republic and the USA in the 1980s to find such a vast margin of improvement in the record by any quartet. Steffen clocked a split of 52.65 in Melbourne (freestyle relay), the fastest ever before Veldhuis, with Aussie Libby Lenton's best split a 52.83.

The new all-time top 10:

NED (08): 3:33.62

GER (06): 3:35.22

AUS (07): 3:35.68

USA (07): 3:35.81

CHN (94): 3:37.91

FRA (06): 3:38.83

SWE (07): 3:39.23

GBR (00): 3:40.54

GDR (86): 3:40.57

Shanghai (05): 3:40.93

I couldn't understand a word the Dutch girls were saying in the mixed zone. Suffice it to say, they were very, very thrilled indeed! I'l try and bring clarity to the issue with help from my Dutch colleagues as soon as they stop leaping about ... ok, caught one: Veldhuis says: 'Since we already set a World record in this event on short course, we now also wanted to do the same on long course. But we weren't sure whether we could achieve that feat. We never reckoned with such a clear improvement. All four of us swam fantastic.' Indeed they did.

The Dutch were wearing the Speedo LZR Racer but that alone surely cannot account for the personal improvements seen among the first quartet since Jopie Selbach, Rie Mastenbroek, Tini Wagner and Wilhelmina 'Willy' Den Ouden at home in Rotterdam in 1936. The spirit of legendary coach Ma Braun is shining down on Holland tonight.

Back to today's awesome foursome: no surprise to see Veldhuis shoot like a rocket in her NASA-backed suit, and Dekker's best tallies (a 54.39 off a standing start). Kromowidjojo's 2007 bests were a 54.93, her first sub 55 swim in December, while Melbourne 2007 saw her swim a 55.33. She is just 17. And then there's Heemskerk, 21 this year, on a 53.62. That compares to this list of bests: 55.42, 55.77, 55.83, 55.91. Never seen anything quite like that - but the hint was there at Melbourne 2007, when the same quartet took bronze a touch behind Australia and the USA: Dekker, 54.57; Kromowidjojo, 54.82; Heemskerk, 54.13; and Veldhuis, 53.29.

Dekker and Veldhuis train here at Eindhoven's fabulous facility, with testing tanks and the appliance of science under the guidance of Hoogie mentor Jacco Verhaeren. Pieter the Great was a little off the pace in the men's relay won by Sweden after Russia was disqualified: he described his 48.81 as the 'worst performance of my career', one that left the home quartet third in 3:15.88, to 3:15.41 for Sweden (Stefan Nystrand's the only sub 48 split, a 47.52) and 3:15.77 for Italy (Filippo Magnini on a 48.20). Magnini said he had slipped on the blocks and that had lost Italy the gold.

Van den Hoogenband said: 'Of course this is a 'lucky' medal because of the disqualification of Russia, but sometimes you are that lucky. Our women's relay team showed us how to do it, that's why we desperately wanted a medal too. It wasn't easy with two such 'old men' like me and Mitja Zastrow. I was happy with my first lap, but not with the second. I am not yet tapered off, but that shouldn't be an excuse.'

Russia clocked 3:14 something or other and were the clear winners but after Evgeny Lagunov (48.85) and Andrey Grechin (48.13) had done their bit, Andrey Kapralov broke with a -0.05 reading on the clock, leaving Sergey Fesikov chasing a lost hope.

Of no significance to the final was the squad back in seventh (after elevation) but their age - an average of 18 - is worth a mention in a man's world: a young British quartet of Chris Fox, Adam Brown, Ryan Bennett and Grant Turner, clocked 3:20.96. Three of them have benefitted from time spent at The Southport School on Australia?s Gold Coast under the guidance of coach Chris Nesbit, and Brown, on 49.02 in heats, and Turner raced inside 50sec. The London 2012 generation is on the way for Britain.

Earlier in the session, the first two finals of the European Championships fell shy of establishing any records but the 400m freestyle for men and 400m medley for women produced the fastest podiums in the history of the continental event. In the context of Katie Hoff and the world record, the standard in the women's medley final was a little off the gold-medal chase in Beijing. But the pack is building: the first four home would have beaten Yana Martynova (RUS) for the silver medal at Melbourne 2007. Martynova got the bronze in Eindhoven, on 4:37.86, ahead of her the champion Alessia Filippi (ITA), on 4:36.68, and Katinka Hosszu (HUN) on 4:37.43. Behind Martynova were Zsuzsanna Jakabos (HUN), 4:38.61, and Katarzyna Baranowska (POL), on 4:40.93.

Filippi said: 'This was a good opener on long course in the Olympic year, but only a step really because it's still a long time until Beijing.'

Yury Prilukov gave Russia the first title of the championships with a 3:45.10 victory in the 400m freestyle, just 0.9sec ahead of Massimiliano Rosolino (ITA), who had led from 100m to within 20m of the end wall but not keep the defending champion at bay. Eindhoven is serving as Olympic trials for both Russia and Italy. The winning time was the second-best of Prilukov's career, after a 3:44.44 for the silver medal behind Grant Hackett (AUS) at the World Championships in Montreal. Prilukov said: 'It has never been so tight between Rosolino and me, but I wasn't scared that he was leading most of the race. I knew that I can rely on my final lap. I'm still a bit off my top form because I had a foot injury last December. That's why I couldn?t compete in the Short Course Europeans in Debrecen.'

For Rosolino it was his all-time second-best effort since winning Olympic silver in 3:43.40 (still the European record) behind Ian Thorpe at Sydney 2000. That swim marked an extraordinary advance for a reconstructed Italian, whose pre-Games best had been a 3:48.11. Rosolino's 2007 best was a 3:47.09. After the race, Rosolino thanked Alberto Castagnetti (head coach) for helping to turn him around, blew a kiss to his mother in Naples and burst into tears, the emotion of doing his second-best time eight years after his best time pulling at his heartstrings. Rosolino said: 'It was a fantastic race, and I'm crying for joy. My time was the most important thing for me today. This is a big motivation for the Olympic Games in Beijing.' The bronze went to Prilukov's teammate Nikita Lobintsev in 3:46.75, 0.31sec outside his best.

All backstroke women of the world, stand by for developments tomorrow: Laure Manaudou (FRA) raced into the final of the 200m in 2:09.23, ahead of the Hungarian pretender to the throne of Krisztina Egerszegi, Nikolett Szepesi (HUN), on 2:09.46. But don't be fooled by the time. Look at the last 50m split: 31.65. That compares to the 32.34 of Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) on the way to the world record. Coventry had put in more effort by then, of course, but the potential of the Olympic 400m freestyle champion and world record holder over 200m and 400m is as obvious as the colour of the championships in this land of orange.

Milorad Cavic of Serbia set the first European record of the meet with a 23.25sec effort in his semi-final of the 50m butterfly. The standard had stood to Sergiy Breus (UKR) in 23.38sec since 2005 and is third-fastest all-time behind the world record held by Roland Schoeman (RSA), in town to watch his rivals on his way from his training base in Arizona to South Africa's Olympic trials in the first week in April. Schoeman, of course, had his eye more keenly trained on the 4x100m and the efforts of Nystrand, Magnini and Hoogie.