Bernard Blasts 47.83; France Eyes Golden Relay
Craig Lord
World record holder's victory in the 100m freestyle - off a 21.97 split -at trials in Dunkirk proves his new speed is here to stay; French relay dreams of gold in Beijing as five break 49sec and six join hands to celebrate their joint mission

Alain Bernard (CN Antibes) blasted a 47.82 victory in the 100m freestyle trials in Dunkirk to prove his consistency and Malia Metella (Dauphins Toulouse) clocked a 54.27 French record in the semis of the women's equivalent to prove that her comeback from poor health is going well.

Not far shy of his world record of 47.50, Bernard had company in the form of Fabien Gilot, on 48.02, ahead of a great relay:Fred Bousquet (48.71), Amaury Leveaux (48.79), Boris Steimetz (48.96). he only had true company in the closing metres, however: Bernard split in 21.97. The only men to ever swim faster in an Olympic 50m free final are Alex Popov (RUS), back in 1992, on 21.91, and Gary hall Jr, on 21.93 in Athens 2004 (I earlier had just Popov with Gary's 21.98 in mind, but that was 2000, so apologies to Mr Hall Jr). Bernard would have won the 1996 and 2000 crowns with his feet on the wall. How the world turns.

The morning after, L'Equipe dedicated its entire front page to swimming yet again: under the banner headline 'A Royal 100m' and over a picture showing the bond growing between the first six men home, who flocked to the centre of the pool and joined hands in a show of combined strength and mission, the paper notes that behind Bernard, 'four others raced below 49sec'. The conclusion: 'In Beijing, the French relay can dream of gold'.

In a graphic it adds up the best times of the leading quartets so far in the build-up to Beijing (a summary that needs a Handle With Care note on the box):

3:12:42: FRA: Bernard: 47.50; Gilot: 48.02; Leveaux: 48.38; Bousquet: 48.52.
3:13.02: AUS: Sullivan: 47.52; Targett: 48.37; Lauterstein: 48.45; Callus: 48.68.
3:14.48: USA: Phelps 48.41; Weber-Gale:48:50; Grevers: 48.53; Lochte: 49.04.

Races, of course, are quite different. And then there's a summer of American speed in the LZR that has yet to unfold. But it will. We all know it.

But there can be no question that France has advanced to gold-medal relay prospect. Here's where the new wave of speedsters sit in season's 2007-2008 and a club of sub-49'ers that grows by the day (and just look at where the 2007 world champions Hayden and Magnini sit, prior to putting their best suits forwards, of course):

47.50 Bernard FRA
47.52 Sullivan
47.91 Nystrand
48.02 Gilot FRA
48.34 Cielo
48.36 Targett
48.38 Leveaux FRA
48.41 Schoeman
48.41 Phelps
48.43 Hayden
48.43 Magnini
48.45 Lauterstein
48.50 Weber-Gale
48.51 Lezak
48.52 Bousquet FRA
48.53 Grevers
48.55 Deibler
48.63 vdHoogenband
48.68 Callus
48.78 Lagunov
48.81 Draganja
48.81 Neethling
48.82 Ferns
48.86 Grechin
48.88 di Carli
48.91 Sato
48.95 Mallet FRA
48.96 Steimetz FRA
48.96 Walters

Back at trials in Dunkirk, Metella's best 100 free was a 54.4, set in 2004. She will be pressed in the final by Celine Couderc, 54.30, and Alena Popchanka, 54.65.

Aurore Mongel, fresh from her 200m free victory yesterday, took the 200m butterfly in 2:07.36, while former European champion, world silver medallist and Olympic finalist in the 100m free, Michel Rousseau's little girl, Magali, clocked 2:10.07 to book a place on the plane to Beijing. After a national record of 2:09.72 in semis of the 200m breaststroke, Hugues Duboscq took the crown and Beijing berth in 2:10.38, Julien Nicolardot claiming the second berth in 2:13.36.