Olympic Champ Steffen Rebounds with Gold in 50 Free

Steffen swept both the 50 and 100 at the 2008 Beijing Games but then dropped out of last year's worlds after one poor heat.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012  |  Updated 8:50 AM EDT
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Germany's Britta Steffen, right, hugs Greece's bronze medal winner Nery Mantey Niangkouara after winning the 50 meter Freestyle Final. Steffen's time of 24.37 seconds was the fourth fastest in the world this year.

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After losing to Sweden's Sarah Sjoestroem in the 100, Olympic champion Britta Steffen bounced back to take the gold in the 50-meter freestyle Sunday on the final night of the European swimming championships. She then swam the anchor leg when Germany won the 4x100 medley relay.

There was also redemption for Fred Bousquet, who defended his 50 free title after failing to qualify in any event at the French Olympic trials in March.

And with Prime Minister Viktor Orban in attendance, Laszlo Cseh (400 individual medley) and Katinka Hosszu (200 butterfly) won their third gold medals of the meet to help host Hungary top the medals standings with nine golds, 10 silvers, seven bronzes — for 26 medals overall.

Coralie Balmy of France won the 400 free after world record holder Federica Pellegrini failed to advance from morning heats; Pellegrini's boyfriend, Filippo Magni, anchored Italy to gold in the men's medley relay; and Petra Chocova of the Czech Republic won the 50 breaststroke — a non-Olympic event.

Steffen swept both the 50 and 100 at the 2008 Beijing Games but then dropped out of last year's worlds after one poor heat. Now she appears back in form, and her 50 time of 24.37 seconds was the fourth fastest in the world this year.

Only Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands (24.10), Fran Halsall of Britain (24.12) and Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands (24.32) have recorded faster times this year. All three skipped this meet to prepare for the London Games, which start in two months.

Steffen holds the world record of 23.73, set at the 2009 worlds at the height of the high-tech bodysuit era. This effort was her personal best in a textile suit.

Hinkelien Schreuder of the Netherlands took silver in 24.78 and Nery-Mantey Niangkouara of Greece claimed bronze in 24.93.

Steffen didn't look pleased at first, then let out a big smile.

"I didn't know I had won, because the Greek beside me was rejoicing so loudly," Steffen said.

In the men's one-lap dash, Bousquet clocked 21.80 seconds. Another veteran, Stefan Nystrand of Sweden, took silver in 22.04 and Andriy Govorov of Ukraine grabbed bronze in 22.18 — while Olympic 100-meter champion Alain Bernard was seventh.

Bousquet had been among the world's elite sprinters for several years, and his performance at the French trials was a major disappointment.

"Redemption is a word that came into my mind over the last few weeks. I'm very satisfied," said Bousquet, who said he has no plans to retire. "I still love swimming, and if swimming still loves me, why not?"

In the grueling 400 IM, Cseh touched in 4:12.17, Hungarian teammate David took silver in 4:14.23 and Ioannis Drymonakos of Greece took the bronze in 4:14.41.

Silver medalist three times behind Michael Phelps in Beijing, Cseh is waiting to see whether Phelps will attempt the 400 IM again at U.S. trials.

"I'm sure he'll do it," Cseh said. "But I'm swimming my own race either way."

Hosszu added the butterfly title to her sweep of the 200 and 400 IM's — the same events Cseh won.

She also led a Hungarian 1-2, touching in 2:07.28, with teammate Zsuzssanna Jakabos second in 2:07.86, while Martina Granstroem of Sweden was third in 2:08.22.

"The last 50 meters were very hard, but I heard the crowd cheering and that gave me more power," said Hosszu, who recently finished a standout NCAA career at Southern California. "I would never have thought before the event that it were to become so successful for me."

Balmy won the 400 free in 4:05.31, just ahead of Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain, with Ophelie Cyrielle Etienne of France third.

While Pelllegrini has won the 400 at the past two worlds, she has also struggled in the event occasionally with bouts of nervousness. But she said this was simply a problem of fatigue.

"I'm dead tired, I just didn't have anything more. I don't understand," Pellegrini said. "I hope it's not some sort of health problem, because I've never felt so bad. I've got to figure out what the problem is."

The next Euros are in 2014 in Berlin.

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