By Stephen J Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, March 26. THIS meet will highlight the attempt by two popular long-term members of the Aussie team to make their third Olympic Games team.
Both Petria Thomas, 28, and Sarah Ryan, 27, have been training together at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra for almost a decade. Both women are now married and both see the Athens Olympics as a great way to end their respective careers. Both agreed at today’s press conference that Olympic Trials are more stressful than the actual Olympics so only time will tell.
Here’s how the women’s events are shaping up from tomorrow.
The 50, 100 and 200 will be very hot fields. The Aussie women have the makings of two potential gold medal relay teams. The one-lap dash will match up the Barcelona silver and bronze medalists – Alice Mills and Libby Lenton – with the experienced Sarah Ryan and Michelle Engelsman alongside Cassie Hunt and Sophie Edington. The 25-year-old Engelsman went 25.17 recently in the US after spending time training with Gary Hall Jr.'s Race Club squad. Unfortunately, Jodie Henry, the Barcelona silver medalist and national record-holder over 100 meters at 54.55 has been suffering from a virus and will be battling to be at her best at this meet. However, Lenton, Mills, Ryan and the likes of middle-distance star Elka Graham, the consistent Shayne Reese and 16-year-old rookie Melissa Mitchell may well lower the national record.
In the 200, Elka Graham will be shooting for her fourth consecutive title (if that’s an omen, 2000 gold medalist Susie O’Neil took out the previous four straight). However, Petria Thomas (pictured) says she feels the best she has felt for “four or five years” and will be looking for a PR. Giaan Rooney, the 2001 world champ is the only other swimmer to have gone under two minutes and then there are likely challengers in Mitchell (2:00.64 this year), Reese, Linda McKenzie and 2000 Olympian Kasey Giteau.
Graham will also start favourite in the 400 – she was ranked 4th globally last year. Kasey Giteau (10th globally in 2003) will need to stay with Graham early in order to make her second Olympics in this event but there will be stiff competition from Linda McKenzie and rookie Hayley Reddaway. Petria Thomas has the fastest time in this event in 2004 but it is unlikely she will swim as the event clashes with her 100 fly.
Linda McKenzie looks set to take the 800 with the withdrawal of three-time winner Amanda Pascoe in what is a relatively inexperienced field. Look to 16-year-old Hayley Reddaway, 17-year-old Sarah Paton and perhaps the very talented 14-year-old, Stephanie Williams. Williams would be a big chance to qualify for this event having clocking 8:40.30 (33rd globally) last year but clashes with her other key event the 200 back.
Petria Thomas is the dominant force here and looks back to her best form. Expect something special. She will be swimming for her seventh 50 fly title and her fifth in the two-lap race. In the 100, expect Jessicah Schipper, Alice Mills and Libby Lenton to battle for second and then in the 200 look to Barcelona finalist Felicity Galvez and Jessicah Schipper.
This is easily the Aussies' weakest stroke on the world stage right now. Giann Rooney, Sophie Edington and Belinda Nevell should battle out the one-lap race. In the 100, Rooney will be the favorite having clocked a PR 1:01.75 last year in Barcelona (17th globally) but look also to Mel Morgan, Nevell and Edington. Another to watch is 17-year-old Queenslander Marieke Guehrer who has successfully switched her focus from fly and free for a chance the break into the team in the dorsal event.
The 4-lap race is wide open. Mel Morgan has the best credentials with a 2:12.36 last year (13th globally) but several other likely contenders – Fran Adcock, Zoe Tonks, Karina Leane – have not made great strides forward this past year. In terms of potential, Stephanie Williams may well become the youngest member of the team for Athens if she continues to improve on the 2:14.46 she recorded as a 13-year-old in Japan last August. Williams also won her first Open title, the 200 backstroke at the National Short Course champs in Hobart last year clocking an impressive 2:08.40.
Leisel Jones (pictured) has been in brilliant form, which suggests she will be nudging at her world record 1:06.37 in the 100 and moving closer to the global standard in the 200. In the 100 event, Olympic finalist Tarnee White has made a successful comeback and will press for selection along with in-form Brooke Hanson and Sarah Kasoulis. Hanson, the national record-holder for the one-lap will be pushing for selection on her first Olympic team having just missed selection in both ‘96 and ’00. In the 200, again look to Hanson, Kasoulis and West Australian rookie Sally Foster to challenge Jones.
Alice Mills, the silver medalist in the 200IM in Barcelona, will be the hot favorite with 17-year-old West Aussie Lara Carroll and Brooke Hanson both clocking best times in 2004. The experienced Jen Reilly will also be in the picture for the 200 but will be stronger over the eight-lap race where she will be aiming for her 6th consecutive title.