| Michael Phelps during the 200m individual medley heat in Barcelona on Thursday. He set the fastest time at one minute 59.71 seconds.(Reuters)
Barcelona: Alexander Popov proved himself still the master of old when he won the 100 metres freestyle for a historic third time at the world swimming championships on Thursday.
Michael Phelps of the United States broke the men’s 200 m individual medley world record in the semi-finals on Thursday. Phelps clocked one minute 57.52 seconds to break the 1:57.94 he set in Santa Clara in June.
Popov, oldest man in the final at 31, saw off his younger rivals in a thrilling race, beating Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband and the mighty Ian Thorpe to win the gold in 48.42 seconds.
Popov led by a whisker from the Dutchman at 50 m, turning inside world record schedule at 23.05 to Van den Hoogenband’s 23.12, with Thorpe, always off the pace on the first length, back in eighth and last place.
The Russian, winner of swimming’s blue-riband event at two Olympics and two world championships in the 1990s, held his slender advantage down the return length to win by 0.26 seconds.
Van den Hoogenband, well beaten by Thorpe in Tuesday’s 200 freestyle final, had to settle for a second silver in 48.68, while Thorpe came through for the bronze in 48.77 to add to the three golds he had won in the first four days of the championships.
Popov, gold medallist in 1994 and 1998, became the first man to win the 100 freestyle at three world championships and only the second swimmer to win the same individual event at three worlds, following Ian Thorpe’s third victory in the 400 freestyle on Sunday.
Popov, who moved to Switzerland earlier this year after a decade in Australia, lost his Olympic title to Van den Hoogenband at the 2000 Sydney Games, taking the silver after the Dutchman had smashed the world record with a time of 47.84 in the semi-finals. Neither could match that time on Thursday.
The Russian missed the 2001 world championships because of illness but, he is clearly far from a spent force, as he made abundantly clear in Sunday’s 4x100 freestyle relay in which he finally anchored Russia to victory after a history of second places behind the Americans in the 1990s.
Van den Hoogenband was beaten to the 100 freestyle gold at the 2001 worlds by American Anthony Ervin, who did not contest the event here, while Thorpe was fourth in that final.
Thorpe took his overall tally of world medals to 12 with his first bronze, having clinched his 11th gold when he anchored Australia to victory in the 4x200 freestyle relay on Wednesday after retaining his 400 and 200 freestyle titles earlier in the week.
Tandon misses berth
Shikha Tandon missed an Olympic berth in the women’s 100m freestyle by less than half a second as India’s luckless run in Barcelona continued on Thursday.
Shikha clocked 58.82 seconds for a 45th place finish in the heats. The Olympic qualifying time for the event is 58.36 seconds.
In the 4x200m freestyle relay for women, the Indian team finished 17th in the heats with a time of 9 minutes 2.37 seconds, far behind the Olympic qualifying time of 8 minutes 9.59 seconds.