Ceccon claims two more Euro golds for dominant Italy, reborn Proud wins 50m free

Rome (AFP) – Thomas Ceccon won the men's 100 metre backstroke at swimming's European Championships on Wednesday before adding the 4x100m medley to claim his fourth gold medal of the event.

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World champion at the backstroke, Ceccon continued his country's strong performance by finishing in 51.21 seconds, just 0.03sec ahead of Greece's Apostolos Christou.

The 21-year-old has also won the 50m butterfly and was in the winning team for the 4x100m freestyle in Rome.

"I wanted to pace myself and then finish faster but I ended up starting off quickly and finishing it that way," said Ceccon.

Ceccon was then part of a demolition job in the medley relay which closed the in-pool swimming at the Foro Italico.

His team finished in 3min 28.46sec, over four seconds ahead of the French, highlighting their dominance of the racing in the pool in which the Italians have bagged 13 golds and 35 medals overall, placing them clear at the top of the standings.

Germany's Lukas Maertens won the men's 400m freestyle, taking the gold with a time of 3:42.50 in the absence of teen sensation David Popovici, who dropped out of the final after qualifying on Wednesday morning.

Popovici, 17, had already won the 100m and 200m freestyle in the Italian capital, breaking the world record on his way to gold at the shorter distance.

The man who replaced him in the final -- Norway's Henrik Christiansen -- finished last, nearly eight seconds behind 20-year-old Maertens who claimed his first major gold medal.

"I had already reached second place in the 800m and I knew I was in a good condition to make the podium here," said Maertens.

"This event is my speciality so it's more than satisfying to get the gold at the end."

Proud banishes demons

Britain's Ben Proud came out on top in the 50m freestyle to follow up on his gold in the same discipline at the World Championships in June.

The 27-year-old, who also won the 50m butterfly at the recent Commonwealth Games in England, pipped home hope Leonardo Deplano by only 0.02sec on his way to victory.

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His latest win is further proof of his return to form after a devastating fifth place in the 50m freestyle at the Olympics last year.

"This is a great achievement... After the Olympics it took me a while to face my demons and realise that I needed to make some changes," said Proud.

"I had three goals -- Worlds, Commonwealth, Europeans -- and now it all really feels surreal."

World champion Ruta Meilutyte claimed the women's 50m breaststroke, denying another Italian, world record holder Benedetta Pilato, with a time of 29.59sec.

Former Olympic champion Meilutyte, 25, returned to competition in December after being banned for two years for missing three doping tests.

Another world champion in Sarah Sjostrom won with Sweden in the women's 4x100m medley, adding to her two 50m golds in Rome by helping her country finish over a second ahead of the French and Dutch.