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The Big Event // SHOWDOWN IN THE 100

WHAT: Women's 100-meter freestyle.

WHEN: Swim finals begin at 7:33 p.m.

WHO'S FAVORED: If you are wondering whether the Chinese women are as formidable as the pre-Olympic hype made them out to be, tonight's final is a good place to check them out.

World-record holder and 1994 world champion Le Jingyi is capable of blowing away the rest of the field. Le sliced almost a half-second off the world record at the world championships, lowering American Jenny Thompson's record to 54.01 seconds.

Her closest competition may be teammate Shan Ying, who along with Le is one of two women to break 55 seconds this year. Shan, 17, was ranked No. 4 in the world at the end of 1995.

WHO'S MISSING: The woman with perhaps the best chance to beat the Chinese isn't even swimming. Germany's Franzi van Almsick, ranked No. 1 in the world last year, failed to make the Olympic qualifying time at the German championships in May.

Van Almsick is well known for swimming lazy, and it probably cost her a medal in this event. Fellow German Sandra Volker, instead, is among the favorites for a medal.

U.S. HOPES: Amy Van Dyken and Angel Martino, ranked fourth and fifth in the world, respectively, cannot be overlooked. Van Dyken upset American record holder Thompson to win the trials. She qualified in three individual events and could emerge as a star.

Martino is the former American record holder and won gold at the Pan American Games last year.

_ SHARON GINN

Swimmers

to watch

LE JINGYI: China, world-record holder (1994)

SHAN YING: China, ranked No. 4 in 1994

SANDRA VOLKER: Germany, won trials

AMY VAN DYKEN: U.S., trials champ

ANGEL MARTINO: U.S., Pan American champ

KAREN PICKERING: Great Britain

SUZU CHIBA: Japan

NATALIA MESCHER-YAKOVA: Russia

Past winners

1992: Zhuang Yong, China, 54.64 (OR)

1988: Kristin Otto, East Germany, 54.93

1984: Nancy Hogshead, U.S., 55.92

1980: Barbara Krause, East Germany, 54.79

1976: Kornelia Ender, East Germany, 55.65

1972: Sandra Neilson, U.S., 58.59

1968: Jan Henne, U.S., 1:00.0

1964: Dawn Fraser, Australia, 59.5

1960: Dawn Fraser, Australia, 1:01.2

1956: Dawn Fraser, Australia, 1:02.0

World record

Le Jingyi: China, 54.01

Top times

of 1996

SHAN YING: China, 54.59

LE JINGYI: China, 54.69

SANDRA VOLKER: Germany, 55.03

AMY VAN DYKEN: U.S., 55.27

ANGEL MARTINO: U.S. 55.39

SUZU CHIBA: Japan, 55.57

KAREN PICKERING: Great Britain, 55.85

SUSAN ROLPH: Germany, 56.01

Top times

of 1995

FRANZI VAN ALMSICK: Germany, 55.08

ANGEL MARTINO: U.S., 55.20

JENNY THOMPSON: U.S., 55.31

SHAN YING: China, 55.33

CHAO NA: China, 55.35

NATALIA MESCHER-

YAKOVA: Russia, 55.58

AMY VAN DYKEN: U.S., 55.76

METTE JACOBSEN: Denmark, 56.01

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