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Spain's golden girl leads show

Belmonte says top form still to come as nation records best-ever short-course medal haul

Four events, four gold medals and a championship record; the contribution of Mireia Belmonte to the Spanish effort at the European Short Course Championships in Szczecin, Poland.

In the final race of her extraordinary showing, the 21-year-old from Badalona smashed the European record in the 400m individual medley, leaving the previous holder of the title and the fastest continental time, Britain's Hannah Miley, in her wake. Belmonte touched the wall in 4:24.55 to secure her fourth gold of the championships.

Earlier in the competition, she had won the 200m individual medley and the 200m butterfly in a mere 13 minutes last Thursday and then added the 400m freestyle on Saturday, setting a new Spanish record of 3:56.39 for good measure. Belmonte has shown before that she has the potential to blow almost any competitor out of the water, although with the London Olympic Games around the corner, some of Europe's elite was absent in Poland.

In just 44 minutes at the Fina World Swimming Championships in Dubai last December, she won two golds, also breaking Miley's record in the 400m individual medley.

At that competition, Belmonte was named swimmer of the tournament after winning three golds and a silver — the latter in the 800m freestyle, an event she had never competed in before but one she is considering at next year's Games in addition to her standard four.

"I didn't really prepare for these Championships at all," said Belmonte. "But four gold medals... That's a really good starting point for the Olympics."

Belmonte's golden flush capped a fine competition for Spain overall. The team, always one of the smallest at big events, finished third in the medal table behind Germany and Denmark with 12 medals overall, the best result in a short-course competition in the country's history.

Aschwin Wildeboer added three - gold in the 50m butterfly and a pair of silvers in the same event at 100m and 200m distance. Duane da Rocha also bagged a silver in the 200m backstroke, while Erika Villaécija and Melanie Costa took second and third respectively in the 800m freestyle.

Costa on Sunday added 200m freestyle silver to the bronze she collected over 400m to score a personal hat-trick of podium ascents.

Mireia Belmonte celebrates victory in the 400m freestyle final.
Mireia Belmonte celebrates victory in the 400m freestyle final.J. SKARZYNSKI (AFP)
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