The morning session foreshadowed great things for the French team who, after a humdrum season last year, badly needed the boost. A national record for Karine Brémond in the 200 breaststroke was followed by good placings for finalists Franck Esposito and Xavier Marchand.
World record holder Denis Pankratov, RUS, already sluggish in the prelims with only the sixth qualifying time, had only a brief lead in the final after his extended breakout kick to the 35 m mark. By the turn he was in second place behind a revved up Franck Esposito, FRA, who touched in 24.43. At the 75 mark Lars Frolander of Sweden, the 1997 short course world champion, took an impressive lead and touched first with 52.85, the second fastest European time ever.
"It's my biggest win with my best time ever," said an elated Frolander.
Denis Silantiev, UKR, was off his best time for second with 53.27, while Esposito finished third with 53.28.
Commented Esposito, whose main race was to be the 200, "It's a big surprise that Pankratov was out. That was almost my best time."
Michelle de Bruin of Ireland made it look easy. After tying for seventh spot in the morning she found herself in lane eight, where, to her own surprise, she had the race leader right beside her in Camelia Potec of Romania.
Potec, 15, led at the 100 with 58.50 and held it through to the 150, when de Bruin turned virtually even and made her move to win in a personal best of 1:59.98.
Nadezdha Chemezova, RUS, the top qualifyer from the prelims, made a valiant effort to challenge for the lead but just fell short with 1:59.97.
"I can hardly believe how fast my time was, and I'm really pleased with the silver," said Chemezova.
Potec wound up third with a PB of 2:00.17.
De Bruin dutifully went to the press conference but, no doubt due to their menacing attitude towards the press, was asked very few questions of consequence. On her first ever 200 freestyle at a major competition, she commented, "It was a really tough one and I expected it to be tough. I didn't expect the challenge to come from these two girls though. I was expecting more of a challenge from Kielgass and Moravcova because they both looked really fit."
De Bruin admitted that the extreme heat and warm water temperature (29 degrees C) were conditions that made this competition more difficult than the Atlanta Olympics, but said matter-of-factly, "Everyone's got to deal with it, so I just accept it and make the best of it."
Short course world record holder Marcel Wouda, NED, was the class of the field in the men's 400 medley. Taking the lead on the first length and extending it throughout the race, he finished about 8 metres ahead of his nearest competitor.
His splits were 58.68, 2:04.50, 3:15.64 for a final time of 4:15.28, the third fastest European time ever. "I was a little bit disappointed after the 200 freestyle yesterday," he said afterward, "so today I came to the pool a little later and stayed in the locker rooms until the race, just to stay out of the heat as long as possible. I think it helped a lot."
The swimmers are unanimous in saying that the heat in Sevilla is difficult to handle. "I don't know what it's like for the others, but for me it's really hard," said Wouda.
Local fans had much to cheer about when Frederick Hviid, ESP, moved into medal contention with 125 metres left. Hviid took the silver medal in 4:19.68, his first time under 4:20. "I didn't expect such a fast time or to be able to finish second," said a smiling Hviid. "It was a Spanish record, and I can honestly say I gave it everything I was able to."
A native of the Canary Islands born of a Danish father and a Swedish mother, Hviid switched from Spanish to English with amazing ease. When asked what he spoke with his parents, he answered, "Well, when I'm with my mother I speak Swedish, and when I'm with my father I speak Danish. "
Robert Seibt, GER, was third with 4:20.43. Defending champion Jani Sievinen, FIN, was never in the race and finished 10 seconds behind his 1995 time with 4:24.59.
It was a race against the clock for 16-year-old Agnes Kovacs of Hungary, who swam a superbly even-paced race.
After her European record in April (in which she split 1:09.4), she and her coach decided that she should go out more slowly and be faster on the second half of the race. Her splits were as follows: 33.09, 1:11.38, 1:47.45, for a final time of 2:24.90, only 14/100ths off the world mark. Her 100 split was three seconds behind the world record, but she swam the second hundred in 1:13.52. It was a European record, bettering her earlier time of 2:25.31 from April.
In second place was Alicia Peczak of Poland with 2:28.04. The 1995 European champion, Brigitte Becue, BEL, finished third in 2:28.90.
After qualifying first in the morning, the British team seemed inspired and led early in the race. The Netherlands challenged them at 300 metres, and there was a virtual tie at the 400 with Germany in third. Italy's third leg, Emiliano Brembilla, split 1:47.86 to pull his team ahead of the Netherlands at the 600. Great Britain and Germany, in that order, were all within a second of the leaders.
With 100 metres to go, James Salter brought it home for Great Britain, winning his country's first ever world or European level gold medal. Salter's split was 1:48.45, and their overall time was 7:17.56.
The Dutch team, with 400 IM gold medallist Marcel Wouda as anchor (1:48.96), finished second in 7:17.84. Germany was third in 7:18.86.