London (AFP) - Gregorio Paltrinieri trained his sights on Olympic gold and Sun Yang as he became the second fastest 1500m freestyle swimmer in history at the European Championships on Wednesday.
The Italian set a new European record last year en route to the world title after Olympic and world champion Sun had mysteriously withdrawn from the final at the world championships in Russia.
On Wednesday he swam alone for all but the first 100m as he finished in 14mins 34.04secs, to go second on the all-time list, 0.52secs quicker than former Australia great Grant Hackett.
Only Sun has now ever gone faster than the Italian.
Other winners on day three at the Aquatics Centre included Ruta Meilutyte, the Lithuanian who has won Olympic and world titles but never a European gold in the 100m breaststroke before victory in the same lane of the same pool where she won at London 2012.
Sarah Sjostrom successfully defended her 100m freestyle title, Sebastiaan Verschuren of the Netherlands won the 200m freestyle and Andreas Vazaios of Greece took the 200m individual medley.
When Paltrinieri lined up for the 1500m final in Kazan last summer, there was an empty lane where Sun should have been.
Nobody was any the wiser but he attributed his absence to heart problems only to be enveloped in controversy amid allegations of aggressive behaviour.
On Wednesday Paltrinieri sliced 5.89secs off the mark he set in Russia to move to within 3.02secs of Sun?s world record set four years ago in this very same pool.
No time has been registered for Sun this year, Mack Horton of Australia the top-ranked man before Paltrinieri?s masterclass and while the Olympic title is the goal, there is some anticipation about a battle with Sun.
?I am going to Rio ready to challenge,? he said.
?I don?t know what Sun Yang is doing. I can?t speak for Sun Yang but I want to race him.?
It was Paltrinieri?s third successive title in the event and he led home an Italian one-two with Gabriele Detti adding silver to his 400m gold ahead of Mykhaylo Romanchuk of Ukraine.
Meilutyte was 15 when she won the Olympic title.
She became world champion the following year but the spectre of doping in the sport reared its ugly head in late 2013 when Russian Yuliya Efimova, with whom she had an intense rivalry, tested positive for steroid DHEA and was handed a 16-month ban.
On to last year?s World Championships and Efimova was back to compete in front of a home crowd, Meilutyte?s disappointment compounded as she finished second to the Russian in the 100m.
There was another twist in March when Efimova tested positive for meldonium as she stares a lifetime ban in the face.
Meilutyte stormed up the first length before tiring in the closing stages but touched in 1:06.17, 0.01secs outside the championship record she had set on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old enjoyed her return to the Olympic pool but was open about the disappointment she felt after Efimova?s positive test.
?I wouldn?t say frustration??I was just disappointed. It?s not nice when an athlete at that level tests positive and it is just a shame really.
?Any athlete in any sport it is always a disappointment and a letdown to the rest of the people.?
It has been a testing period for Meilutyte who also had to contend with two sets of surgery after breaking her elbow falling off her bike.
?I?ve had a lot of challenges and lots of ups and downs,? she said.
Sjostrom took her second gold of the meet with her third successive European 100m freestyle title in 52.82.
Verschuren took the four-length freestyle title ahead of defending champion Velimir Stjepanovic and world champion James Guy while Vazaios of Greece led home Israel?s Gal Nevo and Alexis Manacas Santos of Portugal in the 200m individual medley.