NEWCASTLE's Sue Rolph was left shattered after agonisingly missing out on a place in an Olympic Games final in Sydney yesterday.

The 22-year-old failed to qualify for today's 100 metres freestyle medal decider by just 0.07 seconds and team-mate Karen Pickering also lost out by a fingertip.

The duo finished ninth and tenth respectively as Japan's Sumika Minamoto grabbed the eighth and last place available in a race which saw Holland's Inge de Bruijn shatter another world record.

Rolph, who criticised training facilities at home in Newcastle after failing to qualify for the 200m individual medley final earlier in the week, was left speechless by this latest setback.

Coach Ian Oliver was left to do the talking, saying: ''Sue is bitterly disappointed. She swam harder and faster than in the heats but it was just not good enough today.

''I am naturally disappointed. To just miss out by hundredths-of-a-second is so sad.''

Rolph, the reigning Commonwealth champion who lost the European title to de Bruijn last year, clocked 55.69secs while Pickering, in the other semi, finished in 55.71.

Pickering said ''I'm very pleased with the swim. It was a battle out there, but then it always is. It is very tough to final in this event and I just missed out but I am happy that I got so close.''

De Bruijn, who has already won the 100m butterfly title, sliced 0.03secs off the world record she set in Sheffield last May to qualify in 53.77secs.

The setback leaves Britain's women still looking for an individual finalist at the Games having managed just one in Atlanta four years ago.

But there was some joy for Britain's freestylers as the women's 4x200m relay quartet smashed the national record twice yesterday to finish sixth in the final.

The quartet of Richmond's Nicola Jackson, Karen Legg, Janine Belton and Pickering clocked 8:03.69 to smash the hours-old record by almost four seconds while the United States won gold in an Olympic record 7:57.80.

''The time we did would have won us the European title this year,'' said Ipswich-based Pickering.

''We swam a faster time than ever, but we have to.

''With two others in the squad, no-one can be complacent at any time. I'm always watching my back.''

Pieter van den Hoogenband added to his upset victory over Australian hero Ian Thorpe in the 200m freestyle by dethroning Russia's swimming czar, Alex Popov, at the International Aquatic Centre.

The Dutchman, who took Popov's European 100m freestyle title last year, claimed his Olympic title yesterday to deny his Australian-based rival a place in the history books.

Popov was bidding to become the first swimmer in history to win the same title three Games in a row, although he will get another opportunity in the 50m event.

Van den Hoogenband won in 48.30secs with Popov second (48.69) while American Gary Hall junior avenged the freestyle relay defeat by Australia to beat Michael Klim for the bronze medal by just 0.01secs.

There was further joy for the United States as Misty Hyman shattered the 16-year Olympic record for the 200m butterfly to deny Australia's Susie O'Neill a second Games title. Hyman broke the record of countrywoman Mary T Meagher by over a second to win in 2:05.88 with O'Neill, the 200m freestyle champion, also inside the old record with second in 2:06.58