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A Big Splash Likely Early in the Rivalry

Swimming: American battles with Chinese could commence in first final of Games tonight.


ATLANTA — The first weekend of the Olympic swimming competition will quickly provide answers to several major questions, among them:

--How fast are the Chinese women? The first final tonight is the women's 100-meter freestyle and could feature world-record holder Le Jingyi of China and American Amy Van Dyken, capping several days of pitched verbal battles between the Americans questioning whether the Chinese are drug-free and the Chinese responding that the insinuations are "ideological discrimination."

--Will there be a world record in the women's 100 breaststroke on Sunday? Fourteen-year-old Amanda Beard of Irvine said it might take one to win. She has been working without her personal coach, Dave Salo, most of the week since he is not one of the Olympic swim coaches, but American youngster Anita Nall was in the same situation four years ago and won a silver and a bronze.

Beard has the second-fastest time in the world this year in the 100 breaststroke (1 minute 8.36 seconds) behind Penny Heyns of South Africa, who holds the world record of 1:07.46. As for the teddy bear Beard carried with her on the deck at the U.S. trials, it will be in the stands. She has been comforted at night with her favorite stuffed white bunny, but it won't be on the deck, either. "It was white--it is kind of dirty now," Beard says.

--Can world-record holder Tom Dolan of Arlington, Va., win a gold medal in the 400 individual medley? The race between Dolan and Jani Sievinen of Finland on Sunday could be a classic.

There were a couple of mild surprises when the entry lists were released on Friday. Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi decided not to race in the 100-meter backstroke, in which she is the defending Olympic champion and holds the fastest time in the world this year at 1:01.22.

Although individual medley specialist Lin Li finished third in the Chinese Olympic trials in the women's 400 IM, there was still speculation she might swim it here because the Chinese trials are not always the final determining factor. But the two Chinese entrants in the 400 IM--today's third event--are Chen Yan and Wu Yanyan, not Lin, who won a silver medal in that event at Barcelona behind Egerszegi.

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