Back at the scene of his 2009 double world title sprint success, Cesar Cielo joined Ranomi Kromowidjojo at the helm of the dash merchants in the opening session of finals at the Sette Colli meet in Rome - but where the Dutch speedster got the measure of the field by a solid margin, the Brazilian got there by the closest of margins on the swim ruler.
Cielo held off Laure Manaudou's young bro Florent by just 0.01sec, 22.17 to 22.18 in the 50m free, their battle leaving them a peg ahead of the rest. Third place went to Ari-Pekka Liukkonen (FUIN) in 22.30, 0.02sec ahead of Italy's Marco Orsi, with two men on 22.37, Bruno Fratus (BRA) and Andrea Rolla (ITA). Just 0.01sec away was Sergey Fesikov (RUS and ADN), with Lucio Spadaro (ITA) on 22.39 to end the classically close dash.
Manaudou is filling a French gap left by a family member and former training partner of Cielo's at Auburn, Fred Bousquet, who missed the Olympic cut at domestic trials back in March.
Much water and controversy under the bridge for the sport since another warm summer evening at the fabulous Foro Italico, scene of the 1960 Olympics and the 1994 world titles, back in 2009. Then it was suits that got in the way of focus on swimming at the world championships. Two years on Cielo defended his crown against a backdrop of a CAS hearing that rubber stamped the warning handed down to the Brazilian after he tested positive for a banned substance after FINA had asked for a stiffer penalty.
The court accepted that Cielo and three teammates had consumed a caffeine-based food supplement that could have been contaminated with a banned substance that had been mixed in the same pharmacy. In London this summer, Cielo will defend the 50m Olympic crown as favourite to lead the dash crew.
Kromowidjojo, the fastest ever in a textile suit over 50m and 100m this year, reigned supreme in her dash, a 24.21 keeping at bay world champion Therese Alshammar (SWE), 24.52, and the winner's teammate and training partner with coach Jacco Verhaeren in Eindhoven, comeback mum Marleen Veldhuis, on 24.58. Next home were two who had already stood on the podium, 1-2 finishers in the 100m butterfly, Inge Dekker (NED), 24.97, and Sarah Sjostrom (SWE), 25.25.
The edge that Cameron Van Der Burgh (RSA) had over Fabio Scozzoli (ITA) at the 50m turn, 27.98 to 28.24, was enough for him to hang on for victory 1:00.39 to 1:00.43 by the close of the 100m. Marco Koch (GER), on 28.98 at the turn, came home for third place in 1:00.92 ahead of the first man over 1:01, Ryo Tateishi (JPN), on 24.48 on the way to a 1:01.18 effort.
In the women's 400m freestyle, there was no repeat of the loneliness of a 4:07 heats swim for world champion Federica Pellegrini (ITA): Lotte Friis, world 1500m champion from denmark, led the Italian at 50m, 100m, 200m and 300m. Pellegrini flipped her legs over first at the last turn, by 0.13sec but her sprint home was matched by Friis. It all came down to the touch: 4:06.03 to 4:06.15 in Pellegrini's favour. Martina De Meme (ITA) took third in 4:09.55.
The men's 400m went to Gabriele Detti (ITA) in the sole sub-3:50 of the race, his 3:49.27 keeping at bay fellow Italian Andrea Mitchell D'Arrigo, 3:51.72, and Olympic 1500m free champion Oussama Mellouli (TUN), winner of the Olympic 10km qualifier in Portugal last weekend, doubtless still feeling the swell but good for a 3:51.73 effort. A hand away was Denmark's Mads Glaesner, on 3:51.88, with former European 1500m champion Sebastien Rouault (FRA) on 3:52.35.
Denmark's test of strength produced its first win of the meet in Rikke Moller Pedersen, fourth at the turn on 32.51 in the 100m breaststroke, a 1:07.88 conclusion taking her past Satomi Suzuki (JPN), 1:08.15, and Jennie Johansson (SWE), 1:08.17, with two others stopping the clock inside 1:09.
Inge Dekker (NED and Marseilles) inflicted what was, for this season, a rare defeat on Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) 58.25 to 58.57 in the 100m butterfly. Dekker sealed victory with a 27.29 effort at the turn, Sjostrom on 27.73. Just 0.07sec away at the turn was Swedish teammate Martina Granstrom, on her way to third place in 58.81, that locking out former 200m Olympic champion Otylia Jedrzejcak (POL), on 27.97 and 58.82.
In the men's 100m butterfly, Jason Dunford (KEN and ADN) and Piero Codia (ITA) had timed in at 52.43 and 52.67 respectively. Neither could replicate those times (achieved with a faster first 50m speed in the heats) this evening as six men cracked 53sec. The win went to a South African getting used to getting his hand to the wall first, Chad Le Clos, on 52.51. Dunford took second in 52.65, with Konrad Czerniak (POL) third in 52.72. Close by in a tight finish were Matteo Rivolta (ITA), 52.84, Steffen Deibler (GER), 52.92, and Codia, on 52.94.