ROME --- Call it a 100-meter dash with a turn in the middle. Swimming's signature race at the world championships consists of two foam-filled laps in the water.
Today's freestyle final is shap-ing up as a two-man duel between hulking Frenchman Alain Bernard and smooth-swimming Brazilian Cesar Cielo.
"I'm expecting a battle with Cielo," Bernard said. "That's what I expect, but there could be someone who comes from the outer lanes, too."
Bernard led the semifinals Wednesday with a time of 47.27 seconds.
Cielo was second in 47.48 and Stefan Nystrand, of Sweden, third in 47.53.
Bernard believes the winner will clock between 47 flat and 47.02, while Nystrand predicted a time under the 47-second barrier.
"I'm going to try to go to the podium, but I know it's going to be hard," the Swede said. "Cesar and Bernard are the favorites."
Michael Phelps was planning to enter the 100, but the winner of a record eight gold medals at last year's Olympics pulled out of the event at the U.S. trials in Indianapolis earlier this month citing a sore neck.
Two-time defending world champion Filippo Magnini, who expressed doubts about Phelps' neck problem, did not qualify for the final after finishing in ninth place.
The other five qualifiers were Nicolas Oliveira, of Brazil; Brent Hayden, of Canada; David Walters, of the United States; Lyndon Ferns, of South Africa; and Frederick Bousquet, of France.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The NCAA is placing restrictions on high-tech suits in college competition similar to the ones swimming's world governing body enacted.
The NCAA said that its swimming and diving committees for all three divisions have endorsed rules that limit coverage and the type of material used effective for the start of the season.
The NCAA said it was not influenced by FINA's decision.
Seventy NCAA meet records were set in 2009.