By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, May 16 – Susie O'Neill's place as one of the great Australian female swimmers was set in the record books tonight when she comfortably won the 200m freestyle at the Australian Olympic Trials and National Championships. With her time of 1:57.70, which was just 0.23 seconds slower than the Commonwealth and Australian record she set last night, O'Neill broke the long standing record for the most Australian Championships won by an individual set by the late Sir Frank Beaurepaire in the 1930's. Her time in the final was the tenth-best swim in history over the distance, to go with the fifth-best performance last night. The minor places went to two swimmers much better known for other events: backstroker Giaan Rooney, in 1:59.5, making her the second fastest Australian performer in history; and butterfly specialist, Petria Thomas, also in a personal best 2:00.18.
O'Neill and Thomas won their respective semi-finals of the 200m butterfly less than an hour after the freestyle final. O'Neill's winning time of 2:06.51, broke her Commonwealth and Australian record, set at the 1999 Pan Pacs, by 0.02 seconds while Thomas continued to improve over the longer distance, recording the third fastest time in the world this year (2:09.94). The final tomorrow will give O'Neill another chance to topple American butterfly legend, Mary T Meagher's nineteen-year-old world record.
Teenagers Heath Ramsey and Justin Norris took the two available places on the Olympic team in the men's 200m butterfly with strong performances. Ramsey led all the way to just hold off the fast finishing Norris by 0.01 of a second, recording times of 1:57.49 and 1:57.50 respectively. These are the fourth and fifth fastest times in the world this year.
Elli Overton, the University of California, Berkeley-based Aussie, qualified for her third Olympics with a solid performance in winning the women's 200m IM. Her time of 2:14.66 was only 0.15 seconds outside her own Australian record set at last year's Pan Pacs. Atlanta Olympian, Anna Windsor, also made the team in finishing second in 2:16.66.
Ian Thorpe was the third fastest qualifier for the final of the men's 100m freestyle tomorrow night in a personal best time of 49.45. He will have a tough battle with Chris Fydler (49.09) and Michael Klim (49.31) for one of the two places on the team in this event. In particular, Fydler looked very strong after setting a personal best time in the morning heat of 49.23 and improving further in winning his semi-final. His semi-final time places him third fastest in the world this year, behind Michael Klim
(48.72) and Holland's Pieter van den Hoogenband (48.73).
Jim Piper qualified fastest for the 200m breaststroke tomorrow in 2:16.13, ahead of Regan Harrison (2:16.24) and Ryan Mitchell (2:16.93).