By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, March 26. THE Aussies are the first nation to hold their Olympic selection trials so they will be setting the standard for the rest of the world to chase over the coming months. The selection policy is simple and unyielding: if you don’t perform here, you miss the big ‘open-air’ show in August.
The two men who have dominated Aussie swimming over the past five or so years – Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett – should continue to make the headlines this coming week. Neither Thorpe nor Hackett has raced much since they both came home from Barcelona with five medals in their baggage last July.
There is one other guy that the local swim fans will be willing to pull out some special performances this week – Michael Klim. The 26-year-old Victorian will be lining up for his first national champs since 2001, in an attempt to qualify for his third Olympic team after a crippling run of injuries has kept him in the stands.
Here’s how the men’s events shape up from tomorrow.
National record-holder Brett Hawke leads the way this year with a 22.39 last month, but fellow Sydney Olympians Ashley Callus, Todd Pearson and the returning Michael Klim likely to fight it out under the flags in the one-lap dash.
In the 100, Ian Thorpe, the Barcelona bronze medalist in this event will be crowd favourite but also look out for Callus (Thorpe and Callus tied for first in this event last year – see pic), comebacker Klim and Pearson.
Thorpe and Grant Hackett should battle out the 200 & 400 freestyle. Expect Hackett to try and take the Thorpedo in the 400 after clocking 3:46.79 in full training in January – BUT Thorpe will be going for his seventh consecutive title – always a great race. Look for further improvement from the 18-year-old World Champs rookie Nic Sprenger in the 200.
1500: no contest. It's Hackett then daylight. Hackett will be shooting for his eighth consecutive title – eight years undefeated on the world stage – and is well on his way to becoming a swimming legend. Today he hinted today to expect something special from him on the last day of competition.
Geoff Huegill will be another who is going for eight straight victories in the 50 fly but World Champs’ gold medalist Matt Welsh will make it tough. Welsh lost his world record to Ian Crocker just a few weeks ago. The two-lap race should be a beauty with former world record-holder Michael Klim making a concerted effort to again challenge Huegill with 27-year-old Adam Pine sure to be fighting for an individual spot.
In the 200 fly, look to Justin Norris, the Olympic bronze medalist in this event, to re-establish his position as the leading man after being slightly upstaged by 18-year-old Travis Nederpelt in Barcelona. Another in the mix will be Queenslander Josh Krogh.
Matt Welsh and Josh Watson should fight out the 50 and 100 dorsal events. Welsh has won the double in three of the past four champs from Watson. BUT the new kid on the block and yet to be tested in the pressure cooker situation of Olympic trials is Andrew Lauterstein. The 16-year-old Victorian has already had a surprise victory this year over Welsh at a State meet in the 100 with a PR 55.82. Welsh has since gone 54.85 in Canberra last month.
In the deuce, Welsh will again be the favourite but his main competition may well come from his club mate Ray Hass (2nd all-time Aussie) who will be attempting to make his first team after finishing either first or second in this event since 1999 – except for a third when it counted in 2000.
Jim Piper missed selection on the Olympic team in 2000 but the fortunes of the now 22-year-old have changed and he will be a good chance to qualify in the 100 and 200 this time round. Piper was the only Aussie in 2003 to make top 25 globally in both events. Expect his best to come in the 200 with veteran Regan Harrison to push hard along with Luke Trickett in the four-lap race. Look to further improvement from national record-holder Brenton Rickard in the 100 with Mark Riley and Rob McDonald in the mix.
Thorpe is out of the frame. Justin Norris has the fastest time posted in 2004 in the 200IM, with 20-year-old West Aussie Adam Lucas not far behind along with veteran Queenslander Rob Van De Zant. Teenager Travis Nederpelt will challenge over the longer distance.