May 21, 2012

World record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and Katinka Hosszu of host Hungary claimed the first individual golds Monday on the opening night of a European swimming championship lacking in star power.

Biedermann charged from behind in the final lap to win the 400-meter freestyle, while Hosszu took the title in the grueling 400 individual medley.

Also, France dominated the men's 4x100 freestyle relay and two-time Olympic champion Britta Steffen set up Germany for gold in the women's race.

Before the session, a tribute was held to remember Alex Dale Oen, the 100 breaststroke world champion from Norway, who died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest three weeks ago. The video tribute brought tears to the eyes of many of the 16 Norwegian athletes competing. They are wearing black swim caps featuring Dale Oen's initials on one side - "A.D.O."

In the 400 free, Biedermann clocked 3 minutes, 47.84 seconds, with Gergo Kis of Hungary second in 3:48.09 and Samuel Pizzetti of Italy third in 3:48.66.

Defending champion Yannick Agnel of France was one of several title holders skipping the event to avoid interrupting their Olympic preparation.

Biedermann was nearly eight seconds off his world record of 3:40.07 set with the now banned rubberized bodysuits at the 2009 worlds in Rome. He didn't celebrate at the finish.

"I got into the race much too slowly," Biedermann said. "I still have to work on that (before) the Olympics. I'm really happy with this European title, but unfortunately I once again missed the national Olympic qualifying time. Now I'll probably have to accept a free ticket, as I'm qualified after my world bronze (world) medal last year."

Kis said his main races are the 800 and 1,500, so this medal was a bonus.

Hosszu won in 4:33.76. Fellow Hungarian Zsussana Jakabos took silver in 4:35.68 and Barbora Zavadova of the Czech Republic took bronze in 4:38.07.

Defending champion Hannah Miley of Britain also was absent.

Completing her senior year at Southern California, Hosszu has had a busy season of races in the United States.

"I had only two or three days of rest before the championships," Hosszu said. "The 400 IM is an event that hurts. I didn't expect to swim below 4:35."

Jakabos said she would aim "for revenge" to catch her teammate in London, while Zavadova celebrated her first international medal.

In the men's relay, the French team of Amaury Leveaux, Alain Bernard, Fred Bousquet and Jeremy Stravius touched in 3:13.55, with Italy second in 3:14.71 and Russia third in 3:15.13.

Bernard will not defend his Olympic title in the 100 free after failing to qualify for the event at the French trials.

In the women's relay, the German squad of Steffen, Silke Lippok, Lisa Vitting and Daniela Schreiber clocked 3:37.98. Sweden - featuring 2009 100 butterfly world champion Sarah Sjoestroem - took silver in 3:37.98 and Italy - with Olympic and world 200 free champion Federica Pellegrini - took bronze in 3:39.84.

Steffen swept gold in the 50 and 100 free at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but withdrew from last year's worlds in Shanghai.

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