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Dedieu Breaks Russian Gold Streak
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French star Virginie Dedieu won her third consecutive world synchronized swimming title in the solo free event yesterday night, spoiling Russia's bid for a golden sweep.

Wearing a black V-neck suit and swimming to music featuring an operatic aria, Dedieu dazzled the judges.

She received three perfect scores of 10.0 for artistic merit and technical marks of 9.9. Her total of 99.500 points bettered Natalia Ischenko of Russia, who had 98.500 and settled for silver for the second straight world meet.

"The third (title) was the hardest because I retired and came back," Dedieu said through a translator. "I made a bet with myself. It wasn't easy to come back to the top. I'm really, really happy."

Dedieu's victory broke up Russia's hold on the gold. The Russians had won the first four events, and they are heavily favored in the remaining two.

Virginie Dedieu of France performs in the synchronized swimming solo free routine final at the World Aquatics Championships in Melbourne yesterday. Reuters

"The competition with Virginie is very tough," Ischenko, who won the solo technical gold, said through a translator. "She's an outstanding performer and a great athlete."

Gemma Civil Mengual of Spain earned the bronze, her third consecutive bronze-medal finish at the worlds. Saho Harada of Japan was fourth and American Christina Jones finished fifth.

When she realized she had won, Dedieu began weeping. She ran across the deck and climbed into the stands for a long, lingering embrace with her boyfriend, Jeremy.

"I said to him, 'I did it,' but we actually did it together because he really helped me getting back to the top," she said.

Dedieu had four months to prepare for the worlds after coming out of retirement. The 28-year-old swimmer captured the world title at Montreal two years ago, then left the sport to pursue interior design.

After Melbourne, Dedieu plans to tour Japan with a music and water show before resuming her interior design career.

Mengual thought she had seen the last of Dedieu two years ago in Montreal.

"It was a surprise she came back. It's the last time, I think," Mengual said, laughing.

Earlier, Alexandre Despatie caused a few double-takes - the Canadian was leading a diving event and a couple of Chinese were trailing.

Despatie, winner of the 3-meter springboard in his hometown of Montreal in 2005, got off to a good start in defending his title by leading the preliminaries in Melbourne, relegating Chinese divers Qin Kai and He Chong into second and third, respectively.

That's not a familiar place for the Chinese, who had led 11 straight rounds of diving while winning the first four events, including Qin's gold with Wang Feng in the 3-meter synchronized springboard.

He Zi later helped restore the Chinese domination, leading all 37 qualifiers in yesterday night's 1-meter preliminaries ahead of today's semifinal.

Despatie had 486.54 points in the prelims. The top 18 advanced to today's semifinals, with the final set for the evening.

Qin finished with 474.70, followed by He Chong at 470.75. Close behind was another veteran, Russia's Dmitry Sautin at 470.70, while American Troy Dumais, who won silver in Montreal, was fifth at 456.00.

(China Daily via Agencies March 23, 2007)

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