EINDHOVEN, Netherlands, - Alain Bernard snatched the 100 metres freestyle world record from Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband at the ailing Dutchman's home pool in the European swimming championships on Friday.
Alain Bernard of France reacts after his men's 100m freestyle semi-final at the European Swimming Championships in Eindhoven March 21, 2008. [Agencies]
The 24-year old Frenchman clocked 47.60 seconds in the 100 semi-finals to beat the 47.84 mark Van den Hoogenband set in the semi-finals of the Sydney Olympics in September, 2000, on the way to the first of his two Olympic 100 freestyle titles.
It was one more blow for Van den Hoogenband, who has had the toughest of times since he turned 30 last week.
He pulled out of the morning's 100 freestyle heats, having been ill during the week and failing to make the semi-finals of the 200 freestyle, an event he had won four times.
Bernard hit the 50-metre mark in 22.88, well inside Van den Hoogenband's world record split of 23.16, and hurtled down the return length to carve 0.24 seconds from the world mark. His previous best was 48.12.
France experienced an extraordinary day of elation and disappointment, with the second high point coming in the evening's last race when their women's 4x200 freestyle relay squad held off the British quartet to win by 0.27 seconds in 7:52.09.
But Russians Anastasia Zueva and Grigory Falko denied France two expected gold medals when they upstaged favourites Laure Manaudou and Hugues Duboscq in two earlier finals.
Manaudou, who won four European titles in 2006, had posted a European 100 backstroke record of 59.50 in Thursday's semi-finals.
But Zueva led all the way against the world silver medallist to reclaim the European record and strike gold in 59.41, with defending champion Manaudou having to settle for silver in 1:00.05 after winning in 2004 and 2006.
Manaudou, in the lane next to Zueva, turned away and hung on the further lane rope, refusing to acknowledge her conqueror. Her mood brightened later when she led off the relay victory for her second Eindhoven gold after winning Wednesday's 200 backstroke from Zueva.
Duboscq, who had broken the men's 200 breaststroke championship record twice on Thursday, led for the first 150 metres but Falko overhauled him on the last length to grab the gold and the championship record in 2:09.64.
Norway's Alexander Dale Oen, who had beaten Duboscq for the 100 breaststroke title when both dipped below the one-minute mark for the first time, swept through for silver in 2:09.74 and Duboscq was left with bronze.
Greece celebrated two titles. Ioannis Drymonakos came through in the last couple of strokes of the 200 butterfly in 1:54.16 ahead of 2005 world champion Pawel Korzeniowski of Poland (1:54.38), with both inside the old European record, and Aristeidis Grigoriadis won the 50 backstroke to follow his silver in the 100 back.
Italy's Alessia Filippi inherited Manaudou's 800 freestyle title for her second Eindhoven gold after winning the 400 individual medley on Tuesday. Manaudou pulled out of the 800 to concentrate on the 100 backstroke.
Romania's Camelia Potec, Olympic 200 freestyle champion, set the pace for the first 700 metres, with Spain's 2004 European champion Erika Villaecija in close attendance, before Filippi charged through to win in 8:23.50, with Villaecija taking silver and Potec fading to bronze.
Mireia Belmonte put Spain on the top step of the podiuum with an impressive win in the women's 200 individual medley in a championship record 2:11.16 from Hungary's Evelyn Verraszto. Olympic champion Yana Klochkova was last.