Olympics: French Fastest, Brits Surrender in Women's Relay

France celebrated an Olympic record in the women's 4x200 freestyle relay heats as Great Britain went into damage control over a shock failure to qualify for Thursday's final at the Beijing Olympics.

France's Alena Popchanka (R) and her team attends swimming practice at the National Aquatics Centre, also known as the Water Cube, ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 5, 2008.

The French team -- Alena Popchanka, Celine Couderc, Camille Muffat and Coralie Balmy -- skipped away to a comfortable win in their relay heat in a European and Olympic record time of seven minutes 50.37 seconds.

But their joy contrasted with the despair and recriminations of their cross-Channel rivals Great Britain, who failed to qualify after finishing sixth in their heat behind America.

The British, second leading into the final changeover, went backwards with Francesca Halsall clocking 2:00.07 on her anchor leg for the British to finish down the field in 7:56.16.

"We wanted to swim fast. We did a very good relay and we wanted to prove that we are a force to be reckoned with," Muffat said.

"We even clocked the best time in our heat. We're surprised that we set an Olympic record."

But while the French were surprised with their time, the British were aghast at their poor effort.

"On paper those four girls as a team should have qualified. We're a strong team, we'll support them, obviously they're disappointed and the team is disappointed and we'll use this as a positive," British Performance Director Michael Scott said.

"It didn't work out on the night, I accept full responsibility as the performance director, but if you look at the stats, the teams winning medals have rested one or two women.

"We have the depth in the 4x200 free relay, it was not a selection gamble, it was a statistical-based decision that didn't work on the day."

Scott said it was 'inappropriate' to point the finger at any individual for the shock result.

"I disagree. Certainly, as a team, it's inappropriate for us to point the finger at any individual. I accept responsibility, I made a judgment, but I will categorically say it was not a gamble."

While France were looking forward to lane four in Thursday's final, they fear the Americans, who were second-fastest in 7:52.43 and Italy, spearheaded by Olympic 200m freestyle champion Federica Pellegrini, who finished third in 7:53.38.

"We are afraid of the Americans and also the Italians with Pellegrini," Muffat said.

Source: AFP

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