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Debut Gold For Halsall: 53.58 100 Free

Aug 11, 2010  - Craig Lord

European Championships, Budapest, day 3 finals:

Women 100m freestyle

Fran Halsall stormed to gold Britain in 53.58 ahead of Aliaksandra Herasimenia (BLR), on 53.82, with bronze going to Femke Heemskerk (NED) on 54.09. Halsall, silver medallist behind Britta Steffen (GER) at world titles last summer, was never led: a touch ahead out of dive, into stroke at 15m and on 25.58 at the turn, Herasimenia, who served a doping suspension back in 2003, in contention on 23.66, Heemskerk on 25.93, then home to victory for the Brit in the swiftest split barring one.

Halsall's 53.58sec blast flying in the face of the sport's post-tech-suit mantra "winning matters this year, not the times". Gold was ever glorious but the time counted very much. Five years beyond claiming the first of two European junior titles over 100m freestyle in the same pool on Margaret Island, Halsall was not, of course, expected to match the 52.87 that granted her and a 100% polyurethane X-Glide suit the silver medal behind Britta Steffen and her Hydrofoil at the world championships last summer. 

But at 53.58 with minimal rest from training aimed to deliver peak performance against Australia at the Commonwealth Games in October, Halsall's performance was exceptional: before the advent of suits now banned, the world record had stood at 53.30 since Britta Steffen, of Germany, claimed the European crown in the same lane pool back in 2006. Halsall's time is not only the second-fastest ever seen in European championships waters but ranks second to any world-title win prior to the world-record suits circus in Rome in July last year and is the fourth-best 'textile' effort ever seen behind three women who all have "Olympic champion" next to their names.

Halsall looked up at the scoreboard and beamed. It was better than she had hoped. "It was crazy. I thought 'wow', I didn't expect to be that quick," said the champion. Coached by Ben Titley, at Loughborough University and flatmate of 200m backstroke champion here in Budapest, Elizabeth Simmonds, Halsall said she had been "more excited for Lizzie" than she had been about her own debut senior title - at least until it had sunk in.

Out in 25.58, Halsall, of Liverpool, was fastest in the field barring one on the way home, and while Hungarian Evelyn Verrarszto did no damage as she sped to fifth in 54.33, her coaches (one of whom is her father Zoltan, the 1973 world 200m backstroke champion built to swim the Danube in a flood) did.

Asked for his view of the race, Titley said: "I didn't get one. I wish I could tell you [more about the race]. I struggled to see the race because I was grappling with a big Hungarian and a few words were exchanged. What I did see was excellent. She controlled the first 25m so that she could bring in some back-end speed coming in for the touch. Her best this year had been a 54.5 and her balance on freestyle has been off. But it clicked in the last couple of weeks and I'm very, very pleased with the way she handled it today."

"I was nervous going in ... I haven't had a good year on freestyle because of small injuries and so on," said Halsall, who raced 'blind' on the way home, refusing to breath towards the battle on the wrong side of her lane 3 in order not to have her pace dictated by others. "To do a season’s best and to win the gold is quite a fantastic feeling. I knew the girls around me were really strong so I went out very hard over the first 50m and then tried to keep everything together for the return - that last 10m really hurt. As a world medallist I felt a bit of pressure out there tonight but I think I channeled it well and to get that first individual title bodes really well for the rest of the season."

She preferred to be "the hare hunted down at the end", confident that she could hold off any charge. After all, she had done just that in this pool as a 16-year-old to hold off Steffen to grant Britain the 4x100m medley crown in 2006. "I’m really looking forward to that. The relay on Monday (4x100m free silver for Britain) was fantastic. There’s nothing better than sharing a medal with three other girls," said Halsall.

Britain's previous and only 100m solo victory was claimed by Susan Rolph in 1999, the last European championships to which Britain sent a fully rested national team. Halsall, said Titley, had had a very small rest coming into Budapest,  preparations aimed  at battle in Delhi against Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth.

History unfolding:

Effect on race on all-time top 10:

Euro podiums:

  • 2010: 53.58 - 54.12
  • 2008: 53.77 - 54.12
  • 2006: 53.30wr - 54.48

Euro finals:

  • 2010: 53.58 - 55.15
  • 2008: 53.77 - 55.03
  • 2006: 53.30wr - 55.20
  • Most Euro wins:  Franziska Van Almsick (GER), 3
  • Most Titles/Nation: GDR, 10
  • Tightest Podium: In 1962, the first three swimmers were all given the same official time: 1:03.30, the human eye of the judge deciding at the championships in Leipzig, Germany, that gold would go to local favourite Heidi Pechstein, silver to Diane Wilkinson (GBR) and bronze to Ineke Tigelaar (NED). 

From the archive: Since 1927, when women first raced at the European championships, Germans have dominated the event, though there is, sadly, little point in such statistics: of the 10 titles won by East Germans from 1962 to 1989 (that's all of them), seven unfolded at a time when the GDR operated a secret State Plan 14:25 systematic doping programme, under which thousands of athletes, many of them under-age, were administered steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, some never clinically tested on other species before being given to young men and women. It was the Sporting Crime of the Century and in swimming was the backdrop to a medals production line like no other: between 1974 and 1989 East German women won 97 out of all 104 European crowns up for grabs. 


Shiny suit era

  • WR/ER: 52.07 Britta Steffen (GER) Jul 2009

February 1  2008

  • WR*/ER: 53.30 Britta Steffen (GER) Aug 2006

* - Libby Lenton (AUS) clocked 52.99 in April 2007 at the Duel in the Pool with the US in which she swam the opening leg of a mixed relay alongside Michael Phelps. Under FINA rules, men and women cannot race together, and the time was never ratified as a world record.