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The Olympic pool has been dominated by the names of Thorpe and Phelps since Saturday but on Wednesday night there was a change in the international cast of characters - but unfortunately for Bill Sweetenham none of them were British.

Michael Phelps did manage an Olympic record late in the evening but he was not the main feature, and Ian Thorpe was only a bit-part player in the race of the night, the men's 100m freestyle, won in dramatic fashion by Pieter van den Hoogenband.

The Dutchman turned in fifth place but chased down South Africa's Roland Mark Schoeman who went through the first 50m at a world-record pace of 22.60secs. Schoeman could not maintain that rate and in the final 10m was caught by the man known as “Hoogie”, who touched in 48.17secs to retain the title he won in Sydney. Thorpe snatched the bronze at his least-favourite distance.

The victory gives the Dutchman a place among a very select group. Only three men have successfully defended the 100m freestyle title, the others being Alexander Popov and Johnny Weissmuller, better known as Tarzan. It also ended Thorpe's dwindling hopes of claiming a clean sweep of gold medals in the freestyle events.

Adding further to the international flavour of last night's racing, Van den Hoogenband rather bizarrely dedicated the win to France because of the free use of facilities he has had in that country.

For Britain it was another night of what might have been with a little bit of what might still happen on Friday night thrown in.

The women's 4x200m freestyle relay team added to a growing list of disappointments in the pool, qualifying second fastest for the final but eventually trailing in fifth.

Melanie Marshall went out strongly and handed over to Georgina Lee. At this point Britain were second to a US squad which was on its way to breaking the 17-year-old world record by more than two seconds in a time of 7mins 53.42secs. But by the time Lee passed to Caitlin McClatchey, Britain had been overtaken by both Germany and China with Australia were threatening. Karen Pickering briefly challenged for the bronze on the fourth leg, but there was too much to make up.

British medal hopes now switch to James Goddard in Friday night's 200m backstroke final after he powered through to win last night's semi-final. But there can only be one winner of the final, with American Aaron Peirsol setting a new Olympic record of 1:55.14 in his semi-final to add to the world standard of 1:54.74 he set last month. Peirsol was a full two seconds faster than Goddard, who was a further two-hundredths ahead of Austria's Markus Rogan. Fellow Briton Gregor Tait also qualified as fifth fastest.

If Britain had a poor evening then Australia's Lisbeth Lenton had a truly awful one. Not only did she lose her world record to compatriot Jodie Henry who swam 53.52secs in the semi-final of the women's 100m freestyle. But Lenton didn't even qualify for the final.

Elsewhere, Kosuke Kitajima continued an excellent competition for Japan by winning the men's 200m breaststroke, setting an Olympic record and leaving the US world record holder Brendan Hansen trailing in third.

It should be said that normal service was resumed later in the night when Phelps was the fastest qualifier for Friday's men's 200m individual medley final, breaking the Olympic record with a time of 1:58.52. And in keeping with the theme of this swimming competition, Britain's Robin Francis and Adrian Turner both finished last in their semi-finals.

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