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AMERICANS CONTINUE TO RULE THE POOL

Gary Hall Jr. and Anthony Ervin ended swimming's most chaotic 22 seconds with an improbable tie for Olympic gold in the 50-meter freestyle.

Brooke Bennett carried on the distance swimming legacy of American Janet Evans with a victory in the 800-meter freestyle.

End result today: The United States upped its haul to 29 medals, including 12 golds in the Olympic pool.

Hall and Ervin hit the wall at the same time -- 21.98 seconds -- for the first tie in Olympic history in either of the sprint events.

"That makes us the best in the world in no uncertain terms," Ervin said.

Indeed, the Americans reinforced their reputation as the world's swimming superpower with one day remaining in the pool.

Their 29 medals are the second-most since countries were limited to two entrants per event beginning in 1984. That year, the United States won 33 medals in an Olympics boycotted by the powerful Eastern Bloc nations.

The United States has eclipsed the 26 medals won at the 1996 Atlanta Games and is one short of equaling the 13 golds won four years ago.

Bennett, of Plant City, Fla., captured the marathon of women's swimming in an Olympic record 8 minutes, 19.67 seconds -- lowering the old mark of 8:20.20 set by Evans at the 1988 Olympics.

The 20-year-old became the first woman since Evans in 1988 to sweep the 400 and 800 freestyles.

"It's so exciting, so overwhelming to get two gold
medals and break records," said Bennett, who was 3.45 seconds off Evans' 12-year-old world record of 8:16.22.

"Her times are the ones everybody looks at. I told myself that someday I'd like to break her records," she said.

As the water stopped rocking at the end of the 50 freestyle, the Americans shared a joyous hug and Ervin leaned over to tell Hall, "It couldn't have ended up any better."

Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands took bronze in 22.03.

Alexander Popov of Russia was sixth in 22.24, failing to win an unprecedented third consecutive Olympic title.

Hall, of Phoenix, and Ervin, of Valencia, Calif., are training partners in Arizona. Ervin was quickest off the blocks in the final. Hall was right behind him.

"I don't mind sharing the gold medal podium," Hall said. "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, a guy I practice with all the time. It was like another day of practice."

Ervin, who at 19 was the youngest swimmer in the eight-man final, is the first swimmer of black heritage to make a U.S. Olympic team.

"I've always been proud of my heritage. I don't think about it very much," he said. "To me, it's not that big a deal."

Hall, the silver medalist to Popov four years ago in Atlanta, was actually faster at the U.S. trials in August, where his time of 21.76 set an American record and was the second-fastest in history.

Ervin also finished second to Hall at the trials with the third-quickest time in history.

"The 50 was my place to shine," Ervin said. "Thankfully, I did."

By tying for the gold, Hall avenged his third-place finish behind Van den Hoogenband and Popov in the 100 freestyle Wednesday.

The Americans prevented Van den Hoogenband from winning his third gold medal of the games. The Dutchman already had won the 100 and 200 freestyles, and broke the world record in the 100. He was trying to become the first swimmer to win the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles in the same Olympics.

"Two gold, two bronze, it's amazing," he said. "My goal was one medal."

Popov, the world's dominant sprinter since 1992, settled for a silver in the 100 freestyle. He was the two-time defending champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles.

In the 800 freestyle, Yana Klochkova of Ukraine was second in 8:22.66 for her third individual medal in these games.

Kaitlin Sandeno, a 17-year-old from Lake Forest, Calif., took bronze in 8:24.29.

"I got my best time by four seconds," Sandeno said. "That time is unbelievable for me. I was not sure I was going to get there."

Bennett was 16 when she won the 800 freestyle at the Atlanta Olympics, where Evans closed her stellar career with a sixth-place finish. Bennett joined Evans as the only women to win two consecutive Olympic 800 freestyle titles.

"To do it again four years later is definitely something great," Bennett said. "I'm proud of myself."

Klochkova won the first swimming medal in Sydney with a world-record time in the 400 individual medley and followed up with victory in the 200 IM. She was swimming in her first major international 800 freestyle final.

Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands kept up her torrid pace, lowering her own world record in the women's 50 freestyle semifinals. She qualified first in 24.13 seconds -- bettering the 24.39 seconds she swam at a meet in June in Brazil.

De Bruijn won the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly.

"It's a shock again, to be honest. I saw my time and I said 'Holy smoke,'" De Bruijn said. "It's ridiculous. Someone asked me what my limits are. I don't know. But the year 2000 is definitely my year."

Therese Alshammar of Sweden was second in 24.80. Dara Torres of Beverly Hills, Calif., was third in 24.98. Amy Van Dyken of Englewood, Colo., the 1996 gold medalist, was fourth in 25 seconds. The final is Saturday.

Lars Froelander of Sweden spoiled Australia's hopes for a 1-2 finish in the 100 butterfly, overtaking favorite Michael Klim in the final meters to win gold in 52.00 seconds.

Klim, the world-record holder, was second in 52.18, while Aussie teammate Geoff Huegill was third in 52.22. Froelander's upset quieted the sellout crowd of 17,500, which was its usual raucous self in cheering on the Australians.

Ian Crocker, an 18-year-old from Portland, Maine, where there are no 50-meter pools, claimed fourth in 52.44, which broke the American record.

"I know in that race I gave it everything I had," he said. "I did it the right way -- mentally, physically, emotionally, everything -- so I'm not upset in the least."

Diana Mocanu, a 16-year-old from Romania, completed a sweep of the women's backstroke events, winning the 200 in 2:08.16. She took gold in the 100 in an Olympic-record time Monday.

Roxana Maracineanu of France, who was born in Romania, won silver and Miki Nakao of Japan took bronze. Amanda Adkins of Ghanna, Ohio, was fifth.

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