PERTH, AUSTRALIA, JAN. 9 (WEDNESDAY) -- Janet Evans and Matt Biondi, U.S. stars of the 1988 Olympics who are hoping to spark an American comeback in the World Swimming Championships, today eased into the finals of events in which they are world record holders.
With the pre-tournament favorite U.S. team holding just one gold medal after two days in the pool, Evans qualified for tonight's women's 400-meter freestyle final in 4 minutes 14.64 seconds.
The triple gold medalist in Seoul was second fastest in the heats, behind Australian star, Hayley Lewis, who was timed in 4:13.16. Lewis beat Evans for the gold in the 200 freestyle Tuesday night, depriving the U.S. team of an expected victory.
Evans beat Lewis by five seconds in the 400 in last summer's Goodwill Games. She set the world record of 4:03.85 in Seoul.
The second American in the 400 field, Katy Arris, failed to qualify, swimming 4:18.51, as was the case with Julie McDonald, the Australian team captain ranked third in the world behind Evans and Lewis. She was timed in 4:18.37.
Biondi, winner of five golds in Seoul, dominated the heats in the men's 100 freestyle, just as he has the event for the past five years.
He was the only swimmer in the seven heats to crack the 50-second barrier, going 49.59 in the last group and pulling Stephan Caron, a relative unknown from France, to the second-fastest time, 50.34. Biondi's world record is 48.42, and he won the world title in 1986 with a meet-record 48.94.
Tommy Werner of Sweden, second to Biondi in the world rankings, qualified third, with Shaun Jordan of the United States fifth in 50.48.
The United States also produced two qualifiers in the women's 100 backstroke, although they won't be favorites in the final.
Kristina Egerszegi, one of the youngest members of a powerful Hungarian team that has produced the first two world records of the championships, topped qualifiers in 1:01.92. Teammate Tunde Szabo was next in 1:02.54.
Janie Wagstaff (1:03.05) and Jodi Wilson (1:03.91), swimming side by side in Heat 3, qualified fourth and eighth, respectively, in an event that lost its top-ranked swimmer when American Betsy Mitchell retired to become a college coach late last year.
Jeff Rouse, the top American men's backstroker who will be among the favorites when the 100 is contested, qualified a distant seventh for the 200 backstroke. His 2:02.61 was almost two seconds behind qualifying leader Martin Lopez Zubro of Spain, 2:00.73.
The second American in the event, James Sharp, was eliminated in 2:03.90.
Germany, which won the women's 800 freestyle relay Monday when the United States was disqualified for an early start, qualified fastest in the 400 relay, 3:46.15.
The U.S. quartet of Jenny Thompson, Lynn Kohl, Ashley Tappin and Whitney Hedgepeth was second fastest, .34 seconds off the pace. Nicole Haislett, the 100 freestyle gold medalist who drew the disqualification in the 800 relay, and Julie Cooper are expected to replace Kohl and Hedgepetch in the final.
The United States got its second gold medal of the championships when twins Karen and Sarah Josephson won the synchronized swimming duet with a world-best score of 199.762 points.
At this point in the last world championships four years ago, the U.S. also had just one gold medal in race swimming -- Pablo Morales's in the men's 100 butterfly. But the Americans went on to win seven golds and retain the men's team title.
But the '86 team was relatively weak. This edition was supposed to be a super team. It's looked anything but that so far.
Olympic silver medalist Tan Liangde of China led the qualifying for the men's three -meter springboard diving. Americans Kent Ferguson and Mark Bradshwa also reached the final.