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Botsford, Hedgepeth give U.S. gold, silver

It took a kid to get the U.S. women their first swimming gold medal of the Atlanta Games.

Beth Botsford isn't old enough to drive, but she sure can swim the backstroke.

Botsford, who blew out 15 candles on her birthday cake only two months ago, touched out Whitney Hedgepeth to lead a gold-silver U.S. finish in the 100-meter backstroke Monday night.

"This is the best thing that's ever happened to me," Botsford said. "I knew me and Whitney could do it.

"I couldn't see at first what had happened, then I took off my goggles and got so excited, like, "Wow, I can't believe it.'

"The men (Tom Dolan and Eric Namesnick) went 1-2 last night, and that's what we wanted to do, and we did it."

Botsford, of suburban Baltimore, and Hedgepeth, of Rocky Mount, N.C., posted career-best times of 1 minute, 1.19 seconds and 1:01.47.

Marianne Kriel of South Africa took bronze in 1:02.12.

The American women rallied from world-record-holder Janet Evans' surprising absence in the 400-meter freestyle to get a second gold in the 400-meter freestyle relay before a wildly cheering crowd at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.

Angel Martino earned a relay gold to go with her bronze from the 100 freestyle.

Amy Van Dyken, who finished fourth in the open 100, also got a gold in the relay.

Catherine Fox and Jenny Thompson swam the other legs.

China's women finished second and earned only their second medal of the games.

Le Jingyi, the 100 freestyle champion, overtook Martino on the second length of the leadoff leg to give China the lead.

But Van Dyken put the Americans back in front, and Fox and Thompson completed the job.

The Americans won in 3:39.29, with China taking the silver in 3:40.48 and Germany the bronze in 3:41.48.

It was the second relay title of the Games for the United States, following the victory of the men's 800 freestyle team Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Chinese continued their downward spiral in swimming.

Ying Shan, top-seeded in the 100, had the ninth-best time in the morning session and failed to advance.

Chen Yan and Wu Yanyan, ranked first and second in the world in the 400 individual medley, were 17th and 18th in the preliminaries.

The trend continued when He Cihong was 3 seconds off her world record and finished 26th in the women's 100 backstroke.

Teammate Chen was fifth in the final.

As for the U.S. team, its next hopes for swimming gold rest on the shoulders of 14-year-old Amanda Beard, who will compete in her favorite event, the 200 breaststroke, today.

"I'm really excited after what I did in the 100," Beard said after a light workout.

"I think I might be able to take a little more time off."

But there was little time Monday for time off.

The first thing Beard did upon waking was to take her silver medal out of its velvet box and finger it.

Having confirmed that her second-place showing in the 100-meter breaststroke Sunday was not simply some incredible dream, Beard blithely went about her day.

The Irvine, Calif., high school sophomore could have risen before the sun and brightened The Today Show set. Katie Couric herself came courting her late Sunday night, but Beard, 14, politely turned her down, explaining it was important that she get a good night's rest.

Beard's best time in the four-lap race is 2:26.25 seconds. She has Anita Nall's American record of 2:25.35 firmly in her sights and has duly noted that the world record, set two years ago by Rebecca Brown of Australia, is a 2:24.76.

All eyes will be on Beard in the 200 because of how strongly she finished in the 100.

She caught Australia's Samantha Riley and five other swimmers over the final 50 meters and gave gold medalist Penny Heyns of South Africa a terrible fright.

In the end, she merely ran out of meters. Today, Beard gets 100 more.

If she wins _ Riley stands as her primary obstacle _ Beard would become the first U.S. female gold medalist in the stroke since Catherine Carr in 1972 and only the third in history.

Meantime back home in Irvine, Beard's animal kingdom is multiplying as rapidly as her press clippings. On Sunday, around the same time Beard was swimming, her mother Gayle's rabbit delivered six bunnies.

Beard is thinking about keeping one of the babies. She already has the name chosen: Silver.

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