By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Italy's Federica Pellegrini put down a marker for the Rio Olympics on Saturday when she fought back to win a record fourth successive women's 200 meters freestyle gold at the European championships.
The 27-year-old's time of 1:55.93 seconds was 0.04 quicker than Dutch silver medalist Femke Heemskerk, who led at the final turn, with France's Charlotte Bonnet taking the bronze at the London Olympic pool.
Pellegrini, the 2008 Olympic champion whose world record of 1:52.98 dates from 2009 before performance-enhancing non-textile bodysuits were banned, faces a tougher battle at the Games in August.
American swimmers Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin took gold and bronze respectively at the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, with Pellegrini the silver medalist.
Ledecky has already swum a 1:54.43 this year, with the U.S. trials yet to come, while Pellegrini's 2016 best is a 1:55.30 at the Italian nationals.
Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom, a triple gold medalist this week, also plans to compete in the 200 free at the Olympics and swam a championship record 1:55.30 in the opening relay leg of the 4x200 on Thursday.
But, despite talk last month of focusing on the relays, Pellegrini showed on the penultimate day of the championships that she cannot be counted out.
"The Olympics will be a race in itself but I'm pleased with the journey so far," she said.
Britain's world champion Adam Peaty completed a breaststroke sprint double, defending his 50m title after winning the 100m earlier in the week and also taking gold in the mixed medley.
He could not be faulted for consistency, clocking an identical time to his 26.66 seconds in the semi-finals of the non-Olympic distance, but he might have bettered his world record of 26.42 with a better start.
"Everything happens for a reason. I overthought the start and I paid for it," he said. "If you put too much thought into it, which I think I did there, you end up going slower or the same time as yesterday."
Team mate Ross Murdoch took the bronze, behind Slovenia's Peter John Stevens, after winning the 200m gold and silver in the 100m.
Britain took another gold with Francesca Halsall defending her women's 50m backstroke title.
Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, a five times Olympic medalist, won the men's 100m butterfly in a year's best of 50.86 seconds and became the first male swimmer to take the 100/200 butterfly double in 21 years.
Compatriot Boglarka Kapas took the women's 1,500 freestyle gold, her third of the week after the 800 and 4x200.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)