HONG KONG swimming records usually fall like dominoes at major international competitions, where local athletes are pushed to their limits by more talented pool champions from around the world. But the young Hong Kong squad is suffering a famine of sorts at the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona, Spain, this week. The squad has now gone three days without achieving a single local record, or an Olympic qualifying time. Before leaving for Spain last week, national coach Chan Yiu-hoi had warned that stage fright could interfere with the athletes' performance. 'It's the first world championships for many of them, and they may get over-excited or even frightened,' said Chan. On Tuesday, Tam Chi-kin and Li Cheuk-lun showed they are a close match but sluggish in comparison to the world's best in the 50-metre breaststroke. Li timed 30.67 seconds, and Tam 30.69, placing them 55th and 56th out of 108 entries overall. The slowest qualifier finished in 28.42, but no Hong Kong swimmer has ever raced that fast. The SAR best of 29.62 was achieved by Andrew Rutherford at the 1992 Olympic Games. Szeto Shiu-ki recorded 2 minutes 6.80 secs in the men's 200m butterfly, but that was still nearly eight seconds behind the worst semi-final qualifying time. It positioned him 44th out of 65 entries. In women's events, Sze Hang-yu timed 2 mins 7.86 secs, two and a half seconds short of the Hong Kong 200m freestyle record set in 1993 by Robyn Lamsam. But even Lamsam's 10-year-old mark lags six seconds behind the slowest of 16 semi-final qualifiers on Tuesday. Sze placed 42nd out of 65 overall. Meanwhile, the 'duel in the pool' between Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe is already heating up. The 18-year-old American and the Australian 'Thorpedo' each staked claims on Tuesday to the title of 'world's best swimmer'. Phelps bettered his own world record in the 200m butterfly semifinals, while Thorpe won his second gold medal of the championships by retaining his 200m freestyle title. The two swimmers will meet tomorrow in the 200m individual medley final.