Spotlight on speed kings

BEIJING (Reuters) - World record breakers Eamon Sullivan and Alain Bernard battle for 100 meters freestyle gold on Thursday when, for once, there is no medal for Michael Phelps to win.

Eamon Sullivan of Australia celebrates after setting a world record in his men's 100m freestyle swimming semifinal at the National Aquatics Centre during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Phelps will be in action in the semi-finals of his 200 individual medley title defense, having eased home first in the final heat and sixth-fastest overall, half a second behind pace-setter Ryan Lochte.

He also swims in the 100 butterfly heats in the evening.

“It was fine, that’s all I wanted to do. I’m trying to conserve everything for the final,” said Phelps, who became the most prolific Olympic winner of all time on Wednesday when two more golds raised his career tally to 11.

Lochte, bronze medalist behind Phelps in Sunday’s 400 medley, has two semi-finals, having qualified fastest on Wednesday in both the 200 backstroke and 200 medley.

Lochte leads the way into the 200 backstroke semi-finals with a heat time just 0.06 seconds quicker than his team mate Aaron Peirsol, the defending champion.

Peirsol retained his 100 backstroke crown on Tuesday and is bidding to become the first man since East Germany’s Roland Matthes in 1968 and 1972 to win both backstroke titles at two Olympics.

The big race on Thursday, though is the showpiece 100 freestyle final, Frenchman Bernard and Australian Sullivan having both broken the world record in Wednesday’s semi-finals.

Frenchman Bernard, who lost the world record on Monday when Sullivan led off the Australian 4x100 freestyle relay in 47.24 seconds, grabbed it back on Wednesday in 47.20.

Sullivan snatched it straight back in the second semi-final, swimming 47.05 to enter the final as the fastest qualifier.

Title-holder Pieter van den Hoogenband finished third overall in a lifetime best 47.68 but played down his chances of winning the crown an unprecedented third time.

“No, I don’t think so,” the 30-year-old Dutchman replied when asked if he could complete the treble.

“It’s a new generation, a new way of swimming. I’m happy to make the final for the fourth time in a row.”

Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima has every chance of becoming the first man to complete a second golden Olympic double in Thursday’s 200 breaststroke final after breaking the Games record in 2:08.61 in the semi-finals.

World record holder Kitajima, who retained his 100 breaststroke crown on Monday, is followed into the final by Canada’s Mike Brown (2:08.84) and American Scott Spann (2:09.08).

Teenagers Liu Zige and Jiao Liuyang target China’s first women’s Olympic 200 butterfly title, with Liu, 19, quickest in the semi-finals in 2:06.25 and Jiao, 18, third overall in 2:06.42.

Australian world champion Jessicah Schipper was second-fastest in 2:06.34 and Athens champion Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland fourth on aggregate in 2:06.78.

Editing by Greg Stutchbury