Ryan Mitchell (AUS) was the fastest qualifier with a 2:13.37, and after missing the final in the 100, reigning world champion Norbert Rozsa (HUN) got back into the thick of it to challenge in lane 5. But Benno Kuipers (NED) was the fastest to the wall, taking it out under the world record split (30.43) in 30.16, followed closely by the two American swimmers Tom Wilkens (30.35) and Kurt Grote (30.37). Grote took the lead through the second 50 (1:04.43) with Jean-Christophe Sarnin (FRA) at his shoulder as they turned. Sarnin swam a strong third lap to take over as leader from Grote and went to the 150 m mark in 1:38.91, with Grote now second by 13/100 of a second. Wilkens moved up a place to third while Rozsa was in fourth position.
Grote was stronger coming home and converted his deficit into a narrow winning margin of 2/100 for the gold medal with a time of 2:13.40. An inspired Sarnin took the silver medal (2:14.42).
The 1994 world champion and Olympic champion Rozsa came back in the last 50 to take the bronze from Australian Simon Cowley in 2:13.59. The 17-year-old Cowlie nevertheless had a very creditable swim of 2:13.84 for fourth.
Grote commented on his win, "Honestly I am a little bewildered; I saw people all around me and I thought I was in the mix. I didn't realize I had a chance to win, but obviously I did and now I feel great."
On the other hand, Jean-Christophe Sarnin was quite clear about what he had set out to do in this final: "There was a little vengeance in that after Seville, because I messed up in the final of the 200 there. So this was my chance to swim better and calculate my race better. When I look at the time and see I was only 2/100 from the gold, it is a bit maddening, but it was my best time and I am happy."
Veteran Rosza said, "I plan to race in 2000, but I want to see how I shape up. If I'm not in shape I will quit sooner, but if I'm ready I'll compete in Sydney."
By this stage of the competition the crowd's reaction to the Chinese competitors was noticeably subdued. While the negative atmoshpere no doubt played heavily on some competitors, world record-holder Yanyan Wu (CHN) must have been given the green light to go for it this time. She swam away from the field right from the gun, leading at the 50, and by the 100 she had over a body length on teammate Yan Chen (CHN) and Martina Moravcova (SVK).
There was no letting up as she relentlessly increased her lead, leaving the others in her wake. At the finish Wu had an almost three second margin of victory, but was over a second off her own record.The splits: 50 100 150 200 Yanyan Wu, CHN 29.02 1:01.93 1:40.28 2:10.88 Yan Chen, CHN 29.64 1:03.44 1:43.39 2:13.66 Martina Moravcova, SVK 29.18 1:04.15 1:44.20 2:14.26 Yana Klochkova, UKR 29.81 1:04.37 1:43.85 2:15.01
Chen, winner of the 400 IM and 400 free, added a silver to her collection. Wu's time was a championship record, bettering the old one of 2:11.79 set by Petra Schneider (GDR) in 1982.
Moravcova expected the Chinese to be in the medals. "I knew there were two Chinese and one of them had won the 400 IM, so I was sure she would be in the medals. And the other one is the world record-holder. They pretty much kept their level of performance. The key for me was hanging in there in the breaststroke leg, ‘cause it's my weakest stroke. I am still working on it."
On her performance overall she said, "I have been in the finals four times in individual events and I have won three medals, with best times. It is more than I expected and I am satisfied."
During the medal ceremony many teams withheld their applause for Wu and Chen, letting go only to thunder their support for Moravcova.
World record-holder Michael Klim (AUS) took the early lead, albeit under water. Franck Esposito (FRA), silver medallist in the 200 fly at these championships, also took advantage of the existing FINA rule and submarined for a full 25 m. Klim led the way and turned in 24.29, under his own world record pace of 24.61.
It was a redhot pace for the other Australian, Geoff Huegill; both he and Esposito were under Klim's world recprd split in 24.53 and 24.60 respectively. Klim was racing for gold in the second lap and Lars Frolander (SWE) was making ground on Esposito and Huegill.
At 75 m, Klim was half a body length ahead and went on to take the title in 52.25, a new championship record, achieving his goal of adding the world title to his world record.
Frolander took home a well-earned silver medal in 52.79, also under the championship record set in the prelims by Geoff Huegill, who had to be content with a bronze medal (52.90).
Klim said, "I really wanted this. I am so delighted. It's great to have a championship record and so close to my world record. I just wanted to go with my intuition and closed everything else off; and it worked."
Frolander said, "I'm really pleased to come second again. I was aiming for a medal and I got what I wanted. I had a better start this afternoon and that's what did it. I am more than pleased with my results."
The happy-go-lucky Huegill commented, "It wasn't bad but I stuffed up the turn. I misjudged it, but I guess you learn these things. I am definitely still happy because I got two personal bests and a bronze medal in one day. You can't ask for much more than that."
China did not show up to this event in the morning, leaving the Americans home free as the favourites for the title. With every individual 100-m stroke winner on the team, it was hard to imagine a different outcome.
On the backstroke, Mai Nakamura (JPN) gave Japan the edge with her split of 1:01.83, with Lea Maurer (USA) just behind with 1:01.91. Within a few strokes into the breaststroke leg, a pumped up Kristy Kowal (USA) moved into the lead. Her split of 1:07.20 was the second fastest ever. The Americans were now over two body lengths ahead of the Australians.
An impressive Jenny Thompson (USA) swam the fastest ever fly relay leg with 57.89, moving the American team beyond any challenge. The final freestyle leg by Amy van Dyken was 54.93 and their time of 4:01.99 was an American record. It was also the second-fastest relay ever swum.
"It felt really good," said Thompson. "I think we all had the world record in the back of our minds and we came really close. We all had great swims though, so it's terrific."
Australia, ahead of Japan, had solid swims from Helen Denman (1:08.32 in the breaststroke) and Petria Thomas (58.68 in the fly); the final anchor from Susie O'Neill had them second with a 4:05.12.
In finishing third with 4:06.27, Japan also bettered their national record. Thomas said, "I knew my leg against Jenny Thompson was going to be hard so I just went for it, and now we have a silver medal."