By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, March 14. GRANT Hackett continued his domination of the men’s freestyle events in the absence of world record-holder Ian Thorpe by taking the 200 freestyle in an impressive 1:46.20 on the third night of the Australian Championships.
Hackett finished ahead of the ever-improving Nic Sprenger in a PR 1:47.70 moving him to fifth-fastest Aussie performer, with Athens backstroker Pat Murphy (PR 1:47.27) and medley surprise package Adam Lucas (PR 1:50.21) next to the wall.
Hackett was particularly happy with his performance, which was only .59 outside his PR, set at the Olympic Trials here last year. Hackett has already made it clear he will not swim this individual race in Montreal in order to focus on taking the already challenging 400-800-1500 trifecta, leaving Sprenger (19) and Murphy (21) to carry the hopes of the Aussies.
Assuming the experienced Michael Klim makes the team in another event – 50/100 free or 100 fly – he may well swim a time trial to qualify for a spot on the relay. The Aussie silver medal winning team behind the USA in Athens was Hackett, Klim, Sprenger and Thorpe.
The eagerly awaited return matchup in the 100 breaststroke between world record-holder Leisel Jones and Olympic silver medalist Brooke Hanson continued to produce the same high standard race. Jones (pictured) was very slow off the blocks, back half a body length from Hanson early in the race. But by the turn Jones (31.89) had got into her rhythm and edged past Hanson (32.12). Sydney Olympic finalist Tarnee White actually turned first (31.76).
On the homeward stretch both started to edge past White and Hanson appeared to be closing on Jones. But 15 meters from home it was Hanson who tightened up and Jones prevailed. Jones clocked 1:07.24 to Hanson’s 1:07.57 and 24-year-old White swam her fastest race in four years, posting a 1:08.11.
Olympic gold medalist Giaan Rooney stepped up to the challenge set in the semifinals by her younger contenders Sophie Edington and Tay Zimmer to take her fourth national title in the 100 backstroke. After a bad start and turn that saw her third fastest qualifier, Rooney put together a well-constructed race. Turning in fourth place she gradually wore down early leader Edington to touch in 1:01.14, .04 under the time she set on the medley relay leadoff in Athens. Edington was also under the qualifying time for the World Champs, improving on her PR with a 1:01.26. Zimmer was the third women under the 1:02 mark, clocking 1:01.71. It appears that the Aussie women are gradually strengthening what has been for some time the weak link in their stroke resume.
Veteran Matt Welsh, 28, had an all-the-way win in the 100 backstroke, taking his sixth consecutive national title in a very solid 54.55 while 18-year-old Andrew Lauterstein showed some of his potential by taking second place in 55.13 (PR) – 4th fastest all-time Aussie performer. Lauterstein finished third in the Olympic Trials last year. Michael Jackson finished third in 55.69 (PR).
AIS-based Sarah Paton won the 1500 freestyle in a Montreal qualifying time of 16:17.20 from 15-year-old training partner Stephanie Williams who missed selection with a time of 16:23.62.
Melissa Mitchell blasted a very quick 1:59.69 (PR) to be fastest qualifier in the 200 freestyle. It moved the 18-year-old Sydneysider to 7th all-time Aussie performer. Libby Lenton was next in 1:59.86 (PR). The former 100 free world record-holder swam the first 50 in 26.78 – 0.36 of a second under WR pace – and 16-year-old Bronte Barratt also swam an impressive 1:59.94 (PR) to head reigning title-holder Linda MacKenzie into the final.
Athens semi-finalist Travis Nederpelt was fastest qualifier for the 200 fly final in a time of 1:59.21 from AIS-based Andrew Richards (1:59.99).
Brenton Rickard, winner of the 100 breaststroke last night, was fastest qualifier for the final of the one-lap race, posting 28.14.