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US strike gold at world swimming meet

Veteran Laura Wilkinson and youngster Chip Peterson made sure the United States wouldn’t have to wait for the arrival of superstar Michael Phelps to strike gold at the 11th World Swimming Championships.

Wilkinson (27) won the women’s 10m platform diving and Peterson (17) captured the men’s 10km open-water swimming title on the fourth day of the 15-day aquatic festival on Wednesday.

Wilkinson, the Olympic platform gold medallist in 2000, broke up what had been shaping up as a Canada-China duel in the diving pool as the host nation and the Asian powerhouse had split the golds in the first four events.

Indeed, Canada’s Emilie Heymans went into the final in a strong position to defend the platform title she won in Barcelona two years ago.

But a botched first dive saw her drop to fifth, and though she immediately bounced back with a backward three-and-a-half that earned three 10s, she couldn’t find the consistency she needed.

Australian Loudy Tourky, bronze medallist at the Athens Olympics last year, finished second and Chinese teenager Jia Tong took the bronze, adding it to the synchronised platform gold she won on Sunday.

”I think Emilie did an amazing job today,” said Tourky, who thought the expectations of an exuberant home crowd might have hurt rather than helped Heymans.

In a final that saw all of the medal contenders falter at some point, Tourky’s undoing was her fourth dive, a backward three-and-a-half that saw her drop from first to third.

Wilkinson, performing the same dive, moved up from third to first, and held on to win with a total of 564,87 points.

She had got her big mistake out of the way on her second dive, an inward three-and-a-half that dropped her to eighth. It may have helped her, she said.

”After that, it kind of took the pressure off,” she said.

Tourky, who finished with 551,25 points, said her main miss was a result of pushing too hard, a flaw she couldn’t feel bad about.

Perhaps more importantly, she got through her armstand dive without a hitch.

”The main thing for me was to hold the handstand,” said Tourky, whose Athens platform performance was marred by a two-point penalty for walking in the handstand before a dive.

”I said to myself before the dive, ‘You can do this, and there’s nothing to be scared about.”’

Jia, who was lying sixth after four dives, snatched the bronze with the top-ranked dive of the final round for a total of 550,98 points.

Her 10m synchro partner Yuan Pei Lin also briefly figured in the medal chase, but she followed up a sparkling backward three-and-a-half with a poor final twisting dive to finish fifth.

The two youngsters are part of China’s push to dominate diving at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where Wilkinson also hopes to be a factor.

The US veteran said her victory was a confirmation that she had made the right decision in sticking around for Beijing.

”There have been a lot of ups and downs,” she said of her career since Sydney. ”I had wrist surgery in January. Just coming back from that, being able to be at this competition, is a huge accomplishment for me.

”It gives me a great feeling inside, because I committed to diving through 2008. I’m just absolutely loving the sport right now.”

For Peterson and his open-water colleagues, the world championships offer the pinnacle of their non-Olympic discipline.

”It’s the greatest moment of my career today,” said the surfing enthusiast from North Carolina, who claimed the first US gold medal of the championships.

Peterson, who finished second to Thomas Lurz in the 5km on Sunday, turned the tables on the German to win in one hour, 46 minutes and 38,1 seconds at the open-water course in Montreal’s 1976 Olympic rowing basin.

Lurz had to settle for silver in 1:46:45,2, with Peter Stoychev claiming bronze for Bulgaria in 1:46:50,4.

The women’s 10km open-water gold went to Dutch veteran Edith van Dijk, who claimed the fifth world title of her career and her 13th world championships medal.

The 31-year-old, who will retire at the end of this season, will have a chance to add to that list when she competes in the 25km on Saturday.

The first medals of the championships were to be awarded on Wednesday night in synchronised swimming, with Russia winning the free routine combination — an event that lets swimmers showcase their skills in team, duet and solo formats.

Russia totalled 99,333 points, Japan took silver with 97,833 and Spain won the bronze with 97,167.

Preliminaries continued on Wednesday in water polo, with competitive swimming — where Athens Olympics superstar Phelps is expected to lead an American gold rush with Australia in hot pursuit — slated to start on Sunday. — Sapa-AFP

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