By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, July 4. ALMOST half the Aussie team had a good look at many of the top contenders for the US Olympic team in Long Beach last month following a three-week stint of altitude training in Flagstaff, Arizona.
As has been the custom in recent years, the Aussies are usually the first major swimming nation to post tapered times for their leading swimmers around March. Then it’s back to plenty of hard work, perhaps a spell of altitude work and some overseas competition in Europe or the USA — away from the Southern Hemisphere winter — then watch the rest of the world gradually post their replies.
This year, being an Olympic year, the relevance will be magnified and there should be a sizable spike in the number of visits to SwimInfo from interested parties Down Under during the US Olympic trials 7 to 14 July.
Another major point of interest will be to see who ends up swimming which events given that several Aussies have down-scaled their Olympic program both prior to and after selection to ensure they get a better shot at the neck jewelry.
Which brings us back to Long Beach, the venue for the Trials next week. In June, the Janet Evans Invitational was held as a test event in the demountable pool set in the car park. Although nobody was fully tapered for the meet, several swimmers showed they were well on the way to making their mark in Athens.
Ian Thorpe made a very strong statement to anyone on pool deck that he will be ready to fire in Athens. His impressive 3:46.73 win in the 400 free – also notable for going under the American record held by Michael Phelps – and his easy 1:45.63 victory in the 200 free, pretty much put to bed all the pathos and innuendo that has been following the ‘Thorpedo’ since his dramatic ‘slip’ in March.
His second placing in the 100 free behind Jason Lezak, probably the best American over the two-laps right now, reflected the impact of working out for three weeks above the clouds in Flagstaff. Many of the Aussies were a bit flat in the shorter events but performed better where their endurance had benefited from the altitude training.
Michael Klim ‘survived’ his time in Arizona and managed a positive 1:50.72 in the 200 free and 50.79 in 100 free both in B-finals on his long road back to full fitness after back and shoulder surgeries have kept him out of the pool for over two years. A near to fully fit Michael Klim will be a key factor to the success of the Aussie freestyle relay teams – to which he contributed so much in 2000.
Other Aussies to impress were Olympic bronze medalist Justin Norris taking out the 200 fly by coming over the top of Olympic champ Tom Malchow in the final lap. Jim Piper’s 2:13.43 meet record in the 200 breaststroke, an event that was also notable for the inconsistent Ed Moses failing to qualify for the A-final but winning the B-final in the second fastest swim of the event.
The irrepressible Gary Hall was surely back in full cry in this Olympic year with an impressive gorilla impersonation prior to the start of the final of the 50 free. Tarzan was first to the wall in a fast 22.26. However, the two-lap race was a different matter, where Hall warmed the reserves bench for the C-final. It will certainly need a little Hall magic to stop his old ‘mate’ Alex Popov and the younger Russian Rockets from repeating their world championship gold in the 400 relay in August.
Lenny Krayzelburg, the reigning Olympic champ and world record-holder over the 100 back, was a popular winner on the comeback trail although second place-getter Randall Bal did all he could to ‘take-out’ the lane rope to impede his way to the wall.
Erik Vendt took out the 400IM and 1500 free but lamented a poor qualifying lane in the 400 free. Vendt was in lane one for the final with Ian Thorpe in lane two. The world record-holder took off and the wash from Thorpe’s wake left Vendt in last place after the first 100-meters and he eventually finished a disappointing 5th. Comments from several swimmers suggest that there was a problem with the wash-back particularly in the outside lanes and there’s apparently not much that can be done to improve for the Trials.
Nat Coughlin looked to be well over the disappointment of her illness at the World Champs – which must have been tough to deal with – the smile is back and with it the swimmer who has regained the confidence that made her a sensation at ’02 Pan Pacs. Coughlin took out the 100-200 free and the 100 back at Long Beach but her coach Teri McKeever recently told SwimInfo that she had narrowed her focus to two individual events in Athens – 100 backstroke and free (and three relays) but still intended to swim the 100 fly, 100 back, 50-100-200 free at the Trials.
At Long Beach, Coughlin had a convincing win over Aussie Petria Thomas 1:58.31 to 1:59.80 in the 200 free but like Coughlin, Thomas won’t swim this event despite having qualified for the event in Athens in 1:58.20 – her third shot at the gold medal in the 200 fly is a far greater incentive.
Amanda Beard skipped her key breaststroke events at the Janet Evans but had a good win in the 200IM and said she will also swim the IM at the trails given her good form in the event.
Beard will face the same quandary as Aussie Brooke Hanson who qualified for the breaststroke double and the 200IM at the Aussies trials – managing to beat world champs silver medalist Alice Mills in the 200IM and world record-holder Leisel Jones in the 100 breast despite the breaststroke final overlapping with the IM semifinal. Unlike Beard (ranked 4th globally this year), Hanson had some time to contemplate her program and decided to drop the IM (where she is ranked 5th globally) and shoot for the 100-200 breaststroke where she is ranked 1st and 4th respectively in 2004. The clash between Tara Kirk – who took the double at Janet Evans – and Beard will be an interesting duel next week.
Dana Kirk had a confidence-boosting win over Petria Thomas (No1 ranked in 2004 with 2:06.01) in the 200 fly clocking a meet record 2:08.40. Comebacking Olympic Champ Misty Hyman still has some work to do, finishing fifth, and was DQ’ed in the two-lap race. Thomas swam an impressive 58.56 in the 100 fly to beat Olympic silver medalist Martina Moravcova and veteran Jenny Thompson who looks a good chance of making her fourth Olympic team in this event particularly with Coughlin probably out of the picture.
Also in the women’s events, two 19-year-olds stood out in the middle distance events: Trojan’s Kalyn Keller, impressive winner of the 800-1500 free, and Aussie Olympic rookie Linda Mackenzie who beat Keller in the 400 free. Mackenzie will have a big call in her first Olympics set to swim the 200-400-800 free and relay.
Last but certainly not least, much has been made of the story going round in Aussie media that Michael Phelps was planning to swim eleven events at the Olympic Trials. I believe there story is that he had, in fact, qualifying times for eleven events but word from his coach Bob Bowman is that Phelps is set to swim (in order) the 400IM, 200 free, 200 fly, 200 back, 200IM and 100 fly with the possibility of one event being dropped from the program. There will be no relays at the Olympic Trials, even so this is a marathon effort compared with the mere mortals in the rest of this story.