By Ian Hanson
OSAKA, Japan. May 22. AUSTRALIAN Swimming’s proud tradition in the men’s 4×200 meter freestyle relay continued in awesome fashion tonight when a team of three young guns joined Olympian Rob Van Der Zant to record Australia’s first win of the Games in the fastest time in the world this year, 7:24.10.
Team captain Van Der Zant, 25, led off with a captain’s knock (a personal best time of 1:50.75) and his 18-year-old teammates Stephen Penfold (1:50.70), Leigh McBean (1:50.38) and Nic Williams (1:52.27) chimed in to beat host nation Japan in a thrilling finish.
Spurred on by a stirring speech by coach Don Watson-Brown, the Aussie foursome kept Australia’s dominant international 4x200m freestyle record intact.
Australia is the reigning Olympic, World, Commonwealth and Pan Pacific champions and world record holders – triumphant winners at last year’s Olympics and unbeaten in major competition since 1997.
This team, considered Australia’s third stringers, would have won bronze at the 1998 Commonwealth Games with this time; finished fourth at the 1999 Pan Pacific Championships and finaled in last year’s Olympics.
Their time nudges out the previous world number one time for 2001, established by the Miami club team of Grant Hackett, Leigh McBean, Stephen Penfold and Daniel Lysaught at this year’s Telstra Australian Championships in Hobart.
The win also capped off another great night for the Australians in the pool with Australian Olympic chief John Coates and newly elected AOC vice-president Peter Montgomery and East Asian Games Chef de Mission and Australian Swimming president John Devitt joining the vocal Aussie team in the grandstand.
In the men’s 100m butterfly, Australia’s Burl Reid, complete with Mowhawk haircut, clocked the fifth fastest time ever by an Australian, when he finished second in a personal best time of 53.25.
Reid was beaten a touch by Japan’s Olympic finalist and world championship representative Takashi Yamamoto (53.12) with just 0.13 separating the pair at the finish.
Also taking second tonight was Australia’s 1998 Commonwealth Games gold medalist and 1996 Olympian Trent Steed in the men’s 400m individual medley, while fellow Sydney-sider Kate Krywulycz finished third in the 200m freestyle final.
Steed, one of Australia’s toughest competitors, dug deep to hang on to second, beating Japan’s Jiro Miki by 0.01 secs, in a time of 4:22.07, despite having three weeks out of the water ill after the Aussie championships.
"I’m thrilled with that time after being sick and I’ve got to say this is one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been in with an Australian team," said Steed.
Krywulycz took on the field in the 200m freestyle, leading at the 50m and narrowly second after 100m.
The 23-year-old Reid, who has swum in the shadow of Michael Klim and Geoff Huegill in butterfly sprint events, improved his PB by 0.12 and has now swam faster than both Olympic 200m gold medalist from 1984 Jon Sieben and Olympic bronze medalist for 200m in 1996, Scott Goodman.
Reid, who has been working hard on his underwater technique, had a bullet-like start and came out in front of the field and split the 50m mark at a sizzling 24.50.
"But I hurt coming home those final 10 meters. The wall couldn’t come quick enough," said Reid, a real showman, who played up to the crowd by kissing his biceps and bowing in traditional Japanese fashion.
"I went out pretty hard that’s for sure and I’m actually very happy with that time. It would have been nice to win but that’s my best time."
Australia’s Shane Fielding finished fourth in 54.29, a touch outside his best time, but an encouraging swim for his 200m butterfly later in the program.
In the women’s 200m freestyle Australia’s Sydney Olympic Youth Festival champion Krywulycz clocked 2:01.99 for her third placing, while the improving Western Australian Tammie Smith was fourth in another personal best time of 2:03.12.
Both girls were members of the third placed Australian 4x200m freestyle relay team last night.
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