By Stephen J. Thomas
HOBART, Australia, August 24. WHILE way too much focus has been given in recent months by the Aussie media to the life and times of Ian Thorpe in the Hollywood Hills, his team captain Grant Hackett has been quietly doing the miles in the pool required to get himself back to the dominant force he was before taking a well-judged timeout after the World Champs in Montreal to undergo shoulder surgery late last year. Clearly, a full recovery over this year will give the distance king every chance to achieve a three-peat in the 1500 freestyle in Beijing.
The news from Hackett’s camp was very positive soon after his surgery, but the reigning world champion over the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle has until now focused mainly on training rather than racing. Tomorrow, the 26-year-old Queenslander will compete in the Australian Short Course Championships to be held over four days in Hobart on the island state of Tasmania.
Hackett is entered in the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle events and, if all goes to plan, it will be the first time he has raced the 1500 distance (albeit with twice the laps) since winning a record fourth consecutive world championship gold in Montreal last July.
On the two occasions Hackett has raced thus far, his efforts suggest he is well on track to defend his title at the World Champs in Melbourne next March. In full training, he dropped in on a Grand Prix meet (LCM) in May and posted a 3:46.99 for the 400 freestyle, which stands as the sixth fastest for the year behind Klete Keller’s 3:44.27 at the U.S. Nationals earlier this month. Then last month, he set the fastest short course time in the world for two years over 800 freestyle clocking 7:40.67 at the Victorian Championships in Melbourne. He also posted a solid 1:45.96 to win the 200 freestyle.
“I had my shoulder fixed up and am now back swimming and doing what I normally do,” Hackett said. “It’s nice to be back and part of it and going to these events again and being competitive and I am just looking forward to swimming. I am not too sure how I will go at this stage, because I got sick (flu) right in the middle of this preparation but I seem to be swimming pretty well and I want to go into Hobart and have a good hit out and swim some decent times.”
Given that Hackett holds the short course global standards for the 400m (3:34.58), 800m (7:25.28) and 1500m (14.10.10) freestyle, we can expect some noteworthy performances over the weekend even though he will not be tapered for the meet.
Many of Australia’s other big guns, having skipped the Pan Pacs last week, will also come out of solid winter training to compete here.
On the women’s side, Jodie Henry, Leisel Jones, Libby Lenton, Alice Mills, Brooke Hanson, Lara Carroll, Danni Miatke, Felicity Galvez and Sophie Edington will compete along with newly-crowned world record-holder Jessicah Schipper.
On the men’s side, short course specialist Matt Welsh will join veteran Adam Pine, Ashley Callus and Craig Stevens, along with comebacker Nic Sprenger and the promising Auburn-based Matt Targett in what should prove to be a quality meet.