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Swimming-South Africans beat Aussies to relay gold

Written by: Staff

MELBOURNE, Mar 16 (Reuters) South Africa won the first round of their rivalry with Australia's swimmers when they captured a thrilling men's 4x100 metres freestyle relay at the Commonwealth Games today.

The South African quartet of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Johannes Zandberg and Ryk Neethling fought off a ferocious late challenge from the Australians to win the gold in three minutes 14.97 seconds.

They broke the Commonwealth Games record Australia posted at the 2002 Manchester Games but just missed the world record the South Africans set at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

''It was close,'' said Neethling, who anchored the South African team home. ''There were some butterflies but the guys swam really well.'' Australia, weakened by the absence of Ian Thorpe, finished a close second in 3:15.54 after Ashley Callus briefly threatened to reel in Neethling.

Canada pipped England for third place but the most intense race was for first.

Australia and South Africa have always been fierce competitors in cricket and rugby but the rivalry has extended to the pool deck with the two teams poking fun at each other in the build-up to Thursday's race.

''It's all part of the mind games,'' explained lead-off swimmer Schoeman. ''We're the villains of South Africa who struck gold.

''It was a lot closer than we would have liked but at the end of the day we got the medal for our country and we're proud of it.'' Zandberg, who swam the second leg, was the only member of the South African foursome who did not swim in the Athens relay win, but was thrilled to get his chance this time.

''It's an amazing feeling to be the best,'' he said.

Reuters PDS DB1834

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