THORPE SLASHES PERKINS’ 400 FREE WORLD RECORD BY ALMOST TWO SECONDS
By Stephen J. Thomas
The Sunday morning heats here in Sydney attracted the largest crowd ever to a heat session in Australia, setting the scene for an action-packed evening in front of a full house. The lure of A$25,000 on offer for the first male and female swimmer to break a world long-course record in the Sydney Olympic pool had yet to be claimed in the five years since its opening. At the start of this meet nothing was more certain than the money was about to change accounts. The only question to be answered was whose accounts they would be.
Men’s 400m Freestyle Final
It didn’t take long. The crowd went unusually quiet in anticipation of the finalists coming onto the pool deck. Then the home crowd went wild in anticipation that something special was about to occur. Behind the blocks Thorpe looked very focussed staring straight down the pool while Hackett, the fastest qualifier in a fast 3:47.37, seemed more relaxed, happy to acknowledge the support of a home crowd.
Hackett lead out from Neethling in the first 100m with Thorpe tracking comfortably in third place. As the race progressed, Thorpe steadily moved into second behind Hackett with Neethling just behind. Then all present in the packed venue experienced a special moment in the history of men’s freestyle swimming. Thorpe literally turned on the outboard motor and left his rivals in his wake for the second half of the race. Hackett, who had been confident about his preparation for this meet, came through in the final lap to beat Neethling in 3:46.02. Neethling’s 3:46.31 was the all-time sixth fastest.
Thorpe said after the race “It’s the first time I’ve really gone out there and swum my own race. His coach Doug Frost was beside himself; “I just can’t believe it … what an outstanding swim. He’s an amazing athlete, he really takes everything in his stride.” Kieren Perkins, who did not qualify for the final, was quick to congratulate Thorpe. He greeted Thorpe on pool deck with “congratulations buddy on a good job, it was a bloody good swim.” And it took a great swim to wipe Perkins world mark set in Rome in 1994.
The world record splits were: 50m: 25.91 100m: 54.07 150m: 1:22.61 200m: 1:51.03 250m: 2:19.11 300m: 2:46.29 350m: 3:14.30 400m: 3:41.83
Chad Carvin was the best of the US swimmers coming in fourth in 3:49.74.
Men’s 400m Freestyle Relay Final
The other men’s final on the first night. It was Michael Klim who was the destroyer in this event. He started for the Aussies, no doubt fired-up by the performance of his teammate Thorpe. He turned in 23.34 and touched the wall at the first change in 48.73, a time that places him sixth on the world all-time best list. Jeff English and Chris Fydler held up the middle and Thorpe brought it home in 48.55, less than an hour after his world record! It was the first time the Australian team had ever beaten the US in this event. Their time of 3:16.08 was within a second of the WR 3:15.11 set by the US Pan Pac team in 1995. The US team of (Jones, Davis, Walker and Lezak) and admittedly with Gary Hall in the stands, recorded 3:16.81 with Canada third in 3:20.73.
Men’s 100m Breaststroke Semi-finals
Simon Cowley of Australia swam a PB of 1:01.87 in his heat only to go better in qualifying fastest for the final tomorrow night in 1:01.60. The nineteen year-old Aussie is in sight of American Kurt Grote’s meet record of 1:01.22 set in 1997. Grote qualified fourth fastest in 1:02.82 behind Hayashi (Japan) 1:02.38 and Norment (US) 1:02.72. Morgan Knabe of Canada qualified seventh fastest in 1:03.18
Women’s 400m Individual Medley Final
Maddy Crippen (4:43.13) was the fastest qualifier from Joanne Malar (Canada) and Yasuko Tajima (Japan). Christina Teuscher qualified fourth fastest. In the final, the Japanese swimmer was a clear leader in the butterfly leg followed by Crippen and Malar. Tajima continued to lead at the end of the second leg with the favorite Malar dropping behind Teuscher to fourth. Malar swam a powerful breaststroke leg to pull into the lead ahead of Crippen with Tajima third. In the freestyle leg Malar held onto her lead to win in 4:40.23 from the fast finishing Japanese (4:40.56) with Teuscher (4:41.21) just edging out her teammate Crippen (4:41.30).
Women’s 400m Freestyle Relay Final
The US was clear favorite for this event with competition expected to come from Canada, Japan and Australia. Australia got away to a good start with Sarah Ryan (56.10) leading at the first change just ahead of the US (Liesi Kolbisen) and Canada. The second leg saw Richelle Fox make up good ground on the Aussies to just take the lead. In the third leg Lindsay Benko widened the lead before Jenny Thompson power home for a good win in 3:41.86. The Aussies (3:42.69) surprised some by staying with the US and beating arch Commonwealth rivals Canada (3:44.50). Susie O’Neill (54.66) contributed to the good Aussie performance with 54.66 final leg comparing favorably with Thompson’s 54.27.
Women’s 100m Butterfly semi-finals
Jenny Thompson lowered her 1995 meet record of 59.00 in the second semi-final clocking 58.57 and will have the final to herself. Susie O’Neill won the first semi in 59.44. The other expected challengers for the final Aoyama (Japan) and Hyman (US) both failed to break the minute in qualifying next fastest.
To cap off a brilliant evening for Ian Thorpe, he gratefully received a check for A$25,000. Will Jenny Thompson take her turn tomorrow night?
Stephen J. Thomas, former editorial consultant of Australian Swimming and Fitness Magazine, is Swimming World’s Australian correspondent.