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Beijing Brief: Swimmers in Pursuit of Podium

The Water Cube continues to be the scene of much attention and drama in the wake of American Michael Phelps’ golden pursuit. On Tuesday, Canada enjoyed a strong day in the pool as arguably its fastest swimmers competed against the world in five events.

Brent Hayden of Mission, B.C. touched wall first his heat in the 100m freestyle, illustrating his status as current world champion in that event. He was third fastest overall, racing in a time of 47.84 seconds despite accidentally swallowing a mouthful of water. Joel Greenshields, of Airdrie, Alta., came in seventh in his heat in the 100m freestyle with a time of 49.02.

Stratford, Ontario’s Julia Wilkinson, who has been setting Canadian records all year, did so again in the 200m individual medley semifinal. She came in second in the race with a time of 2:12.03, fifth fastest overall and a new Canadian record.

“Today, I really focused on the race and not the outcome,” Wilkinson said, adding that the pool is very fast in Beijing. “I was racing the girl in lane two, and I knew I was in the game when I saw the girls behind me in the backstroke leg.”

Canada sent two butterfly specialists to the 200m race Tuesday: Stephanie Horner of Beaconsfield, Que. raced to a time of 2:10.33 (3rd in her heat) and Audrey Lacroix of Pont-Rouge, Que. finished at 2:08.54 (5th in heat). In men’s breaststroke heats, Mathieu Bois (Longueuil, Que.) and Mike Brown (Perth, Ont.) swam in 2:12.87 and 2:09.84 respectively. Brown, one of Canada’s fastest swimmers of late, won his heat.

Lacroix and Brown advanced to the semifinals.

In the popular men’s 4x200m freestyle relay, Canada ensured it would have a chance at a medal in advancing to the final tomorrow. The team of Brian Johns (Richmond, B.C.), Rick Say (Victoria), Adam Sioui (Trenton, Ont.) and Andrew Hurd of (Oakville, Ont.) finished with a Canadian record of 7:08.04 and hadn’t used two of its top swimmers, Brent Hayden and Colin Russell – both of whom are expected to be in the lineup for the final.

In the rapids, kayaker David Ford (in his fifth Olympic Games) stepped up his pace in reaching sixth place overall heading into the finals of K-1 slalom. There, he finished sixth overall in the state-of-the-art whitewater course at Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park. He had started Tuesday in 13th spot. Ford, of Edmonton, was world No. 22 heading into Beijing and his performances thus far are the highlight of his season.

In its first action of the 2008 Olympic Games, the women’s softball team defeated Taiwan 6-1 on the strength of Trail B.C. pitcher Laurent Bay-Regula’s five innings of one-hit, seven-strikeout ball.

“This first game felt great because we got the jitters out,” said assistant coach Don Bathes. “We had great pitching, great hitting and great defense.” The team next plays Wednesday against the Netherlands.

In archery, Marie-Pier Beaudet became the first Canadian to win an Olympic match in the new competition format established in 1996. The native of Lévis, Que. defeated India in dramatic fashion – by shooting a perfect 10 in a tiebreaker. Beaudet wound up dropping her next match to Korea 114-107.

In weightlifting, Christine Girard (Rouyn-Noranda, Que.) came in a strong fourth in Group A in the 63 kg event. Teammate Francis Luna-Grenier of Montreal, 22 years old, finished 17th in the 69 kg event. His event was won by China, giving them gold medals in all weight categories so far (five).

In other Olympic action from Day 4:

In synchronized diving action, Montreal’s Meaghan Beinfeito and Laval’s Roseline Filion finished seventh overall in the final of the 10m platform. They were still in the medal hunt after their first three dives, but encountered some difficulties with the reverse three-and-a-half dive. “We are not disappointed with this seventh place,” said Beinfeito. “We are happy to have experienced the games and enjoyed every moment of our Olympic competition.”

On the pitch, the women’s football team dropped its third game to Sweden 2-1. But the day was mostly good news for Canada, as they were already ensured to play in the quarter-finals. As well, striker Melissa Tancredi (Ancaster, Ont.) returned from an injury to score the lone goal on a diving header in front of the Swedish goalkeeper. Beijing Workers’ Stadium was again at near-capacity, with 58,000 spectators. Canada will play world No. 1 United States on Friday in Shanghai.

In equestrian, Sandra Donnelly of Calgary finished 30th, Kyle Carter of Calgary was 35th, Selena O’Hanlon of Elgin, Ont., finished 45th, Mike Winter of Toronto placed 51st and Samantha Taylor of Richmond, B.C. came in 55th. The Canadian team placed ninth.

The men’s water polo team had its struggles in the pool, dropping its second straight game. This time they lost 12-0 to powerful Montenegro Tuesday. “We didn’t play in the same manner that got us qualified to be here in China,” said player Nathaniel Miller of Montreal. “The intensity and the focus are just not there. Australia is a good team. We have to perform to our usual level for this (next) game.”

Fencer Philippe Beaudry (Montreal) won his first match 15-8 before losing in the round of 32 to the reigning Olympic sabre champion.

Canadian rowers competed in two repechage races Tuesday. The women’s quad sculls finished fifth and the women’s coxless pair finished fourth.

Double trap shooter Giuseppe DiSalvatore of Surrey, B.C. stayed positive after wrapping up his first Olympic Games in 19th place. “You have to lose one to win one,” the 19-year-old said. “I’m the youngest competitor in shooting so I still have many Olympic opportunities ahead of me. I’m happy with the experience I have gained here.”

In sailing laser action, Mike Leigh of Vancouver finished 13th in his first race and 16th in his second. Laser radial athlete Lisa Ross of Lunenburg, N.S. finished 16th in her first race and 24th in her second. Zachary Plavsic of Vancouver finished 24th and 23rd in his third and fourth RS:X races. In the same race on the women’s side, Nikola Girke of West Vancouver finished 13th and 14th in her third and fourth races. And the 470 men’s team finished 29th and 28th in its third and fourth races.