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Henry ends 40-year Australian wait

• Olympics 2004: Special report 

ATHENS, Greece -- Jodie Henry became the first Australian since the great Dawn Fraser to win the Olympic 100m women's freestyle title when she surged past rivals to scoop gold in an exciting final on Thursday.

The 20-year-old was slowest of the eight finalists out of the blocks and trailed fifth at the turn when defending champion Inge de Bruijn and American Natalie Coughlin led the way.

Henry charged past on the return length, with De Bruijn in brave pursuit, to become the first Australian winner of the event since Fraser achieved the last of her three consecutive titles in 1964.

Henry hit the wall in 53.84 seconds -- outside the 53.52 world record she set in Wednesday's semifinals -- as Australia celebrated their fifth swimming title of the Games.

It was Henry's second gold after anchoring the Australian 4x100 freestyle relay to victory last Saturday.

"My main event was the 4x100 (freestyle relay) so this is just a bonus," said Henry.

De Bruijn took the silver in 54.16 and Coughlin the bronze in 54.40 to augment her Athens medal collection which already includes three golds.

European champion Malia Metella of France was fourth, 0.10 seconds behind.

De Bruijn, triple champion at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has now lost the second of her three titles, having had to settle for bronze in Sunday's 100 butterfly defence.

The Dutch sprinter, who celebrates her 31st birthday next Tuesday, contests the 50m freestyle heats on Friday.

Beard victory

Amanda Beard, twice an Olympic silver medalist back in 1996, finally won individual Olympic gold when she snatched victory from Australia's Leisel Jones in the 200m breaststroke on Thursday.

Jones, bronze medalist in Monday's 100 breaststroke, took the race out at a blistering pace and was 0.72 seconds under world record pace at the halfway mark.

Beard clawed the lead back and swooped through on the final touch to become the first American winner of the event since Sharon Wichman in 1968.

"It feels absolutely amazing," said Beard. "I'm very proud, very excited, very honoured. I can't wipe the smile off my face."

Beard won in an Olympic record two minutes 23.37 seconds, nearly a second outside the 2:22.44 world mark she set at the U.S. trials in July when she deprived Jones of the record.

Jones, 100 breaststroke silver medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games and 200 silver medalist behind Beard at the 2003 world championships, had to settle for another silver in 2:23.60 while Germany's Anne Poleska took the bronze in 2:25.82.

Beard won an Olympic medley relay gold and was silver medalist in the 100 and 200 breaststroke at the Atlanta Games when she was only 14.

She took the 200 breaststroke bronze in Sydney and scooped another silver in the 200 individual medley on Tuesday.

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