Swimming / World Championship / Malul Makes a Splash to Reach Melbourne Final

'I was pretty surprised myself,' 22-year-old says after smashing his own Israeli 50m record.

After two days of disappointment for the Israeli delegation at the World Swimming Championship in Melbourne, Micky Malul booked a surprise ticket to the 50 meters breaststroke final.

The 22-year-old smashed his own Israeli record by 33 hundredths of a second in the morning's heats when he completed the course in a time of 27.92 seconds to make the semifinals with the sixth fastest showing of the day.

Malul swam a slower 28.08 seconds in the semifinals, enough for the eighth and final place in this morning's final.

Malul becomes only the fifth Israeli to make a World Championship final, following Yoav Bruck, Eitan Orbach, Yoav Gat and Vered Borokovski.

Until yesterday, Malul was a relative unknown in Israeli swimming. The Maccabi Kiryat Bialik swimmer enrolled at the University of Kentucky 18 months ago after receiving a swimming scholarship.

Although Malul made the finals of the European Shortcourse Championship in the 50 meter freestyle three months ago, no one expected him to repeat the feat in Melbourne.

"The truth is I was pretty surprised myself, especially at my time in the morning heats," Malul told Haaretz yesterday.

"Even after breaking my record I didn't think that I would make the final. Perhaps it was the incredible atmosphere at the pool; there are thousands of fans pushing you on here."

The 50 meter breaststroke is not an Olympic event, however, and to qualify for Beijing 2008 Malul will need to improve his time in the 100 meters in which he finished 48th with a time of 1:03.72.