There they were again, Alexander Popov and Gary Hall Jr. Stroke for stroke in the middle of the Olympic pool.
Same result: Popov first, Hall second. Barely.
Popov edged Hall in the 50-meter freestyle Thursday night, three days after the Russian beat the American at 100 meters.
His arms pumping with pistonlike ferocity, Popov finished with a great foaming rush to become the first man to win the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events in consecutive Olympics. He never has lost either race in a major competition.
Popov, in defending his 1992 title, won the 50 in 22.13 seconds. Hall took the silver in 22.26, and Fernando Scherer of Brazil took the bronze in 22.29.
"I don't feel I lost a gold," Hall said. "It was within reach."
The duel in the pool was short and thrilling. Popov and Hall churned one length of the pool, arms flying and waves rocking the lane lines.
Popov's reach proved a bit longer at the end of swimming's most chaotic 22 seconds.
"If you win first Olympics, you become famous," Popov said. "If you win second Olympics, you become great."
Then, Popov set the stage for a showdown with Hall at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
"If you win third Olympics," Popov said, "you become history."
The margin of victory, although just .13 seconds, was a relative blowout compared with Monday's 100. Popov beat Hall by .07 of a second in that one.
Hall came into the Games hoping to beat Popov and carry on America's sprint domination that began with Matt Biondi and Tom Jager.
His father was a three-time Olympian, winning two silvers and a bronze.
"To be on the medals stand, to be right there is quite an achievement," Hall said. "People want to see gold. People would like to see the gold medals stacked sky high."
The time was outside the 21.81 world record of Jager and the 21.91 Olympic record Popov set in Barcelona.
But that did not worry Popov. "Anything ahead of Gary is good," he said.
American Tom Dolan, the 400 individual medley champion, had to settle for seventh place in the 200 IM in 2:03.89.
Jacksonville's Greg Burgess was sixth.
Attila Czene upstaged world champion Jani Sievinen in the event to bring Hungary its second gold medal of the day. Czene won in 1:59.91, beating the 2:00.17 Olympic record Tamas Darnyi set at the 1988 Seoul Games. Canada's Curtis Myden took the bronze.