Bernard conquers demons for 100m freestyle gold

Frenchman Alain Bernard put aside the demons of an agonising relay defeat to vanquish Australian rival Eamon Sullivan for the men’s 100m freestyle gold medal at the Beijing Games on Thursday.

Bernard became the first Frenchman since Jean Boiteux in the 400m freestyle at Helsinki in 1952 to win a swimming gold medal after overhauling the world record holder near the finish.

This time there was no world record from the pair, who have swapped best times this year.

Bernard won in 47,21 seconds, 0,16sec outside Sullivan’s day-old mark.

Significantly for the strapping 25-year-old Frenchman, it atoned for being reeled in by Jason Lezak in the anchor leg of America’s sensational 4x100m freestyle relay victory on Monday.

”It’s huge. I can’t believe it. After the relay I could have sunk, but I told myself that after all these years of hard work I can’t let myself go down,” Bernard said.

”It was in the last 5m that I got into position to win, but I knew it wasn’t until I touched the wall.

”I had already been beaten on the wall, and I didn’t want it to happen again.

”It was a big victory for me; I had to pick myself up after the relay and I knew I had to prove myself. I had to keep going.”

Bernard won in 47,21sec, with Sullivan second in 47,32.

Cesar Cielo of Brazil and United States relay hero Lezak shared bronze, in a dead heat of 47,67.

Bernard said he felt tense as he stood on the starting blocks.

”My legs were shaking. I thought it didn’t look good, and it was the first time that I felt it that strongly,” he said.

”There is so much stress in a final, you don’t know if your body will respond the way you want to do, as it did in the morning.”

The world record in the event had fallen three times in Beijing.

Sullivan seized the mark from Bernard with a lead-off leg of 47,24sec in the 4x100m freestyle relay on Monday.

Bernard regained the mark with a time of 47,20 in the first semifinal on Wednesday, and Sullivan snatched it back with his astonishing 47,05 in the second semi.

”Full credit to Alain, he swam a great race and really worked on my weaknesses,” Sullivan said.

”I was maybe caught into swimming other people’s races. I gave it 100%, as I always do when I race. Putting in that great relay and the world record probably took its toll.

”I am looking forward to the 50m now.”

Dutch star Pieter van den Hoogenband, vying to become the first man to win the same Olympic swimming event at three games in a row, was fifth in 47,75 and said he was retiring from swimming.

”Mentally, this is a big step for Alain after the relay defeat in a sensational race,” Van den Hoogenband said.

”Now he won the biggest final. He’s a man of the future, he and Sullivan. Bernard did what he had to do.” — AFP

 

AFP

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