By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, March 15. BY his own admission, distance great Grant Hackett just seems to be getting better with each swim at the Australian Championships. Tuesday night, the soon to be 25-year-old Queenslander looked dominant as he powered through the 800-meter freestyle.
At the halfway mark Hackett was more than five seconds in front of former Canadian Kurtis MacGillivary and only .46 outside Ian Thorpe’s world record, set at the world champs in Fukuoka. At 600 meters he was only .12 off world pace, but then Hackett fell away over the final 200 meters to finish in 7:43.16 – exactly four seconds adrift of the Thorpedo’s amazing record – the fourth fastest performance in history.
On that memorable occasion in 2001, Thorpe and Hackett had pushed each other to their limits, clocking 7:39.16 and 7:40.34 respectively. Hackett recalled the difference in that race had been Thorpe’s sensational 53.1 final 100. Tonight, Hackett was not pushed at all, finishing more than fifteen seconds ahead of MacGillivary (7:58.97), who was just outside his Canadian record. Third place went to 17-year-old rising star Ephraim Hannant (8:07.30), who was followed by ironman champion Ky Hurst (8:10.67). All four swimmers are from the Miami club under legendary distance coach Denis Cotterell.
Aussies hold all ten all-time performances over the 800 freestyle, Grant Hackett has six.
7:39.16 Ian Thorpe AUS Fukuoka 7/25/2001
7:40.34 Grant Hackett AUS Fukuoka 7/25/2001
7:41.59 Thorpe AUS Hobart 3/26/2001
7:43.16 Hackett AUS Sydney 3/15/2005
7:43.82 Hackett AUS Barcelona 7/25/2003
7:44.57 Hackett AUS Hobart 3/26/2001
7:44.78 Hackett AUS Yokohama 8/25/2002
7:44.91 Hackett AUS Sydney 3/27/2003
7:46.00s Kieren Perkins AUS Victoria 8/24/1994
7:46.60 Perkins AUS Sydney 2/14/1992
In the women’s 200 freestyle, Linda Mackenzie won her second consecutive national title with her trademark strong finish, touching the pads in 1:58.70, just .18 outside her personal best, set last year at this meet. Mackenzie has already won back-to-back titles in the 400 freestyle.
Shayne Reese, Mackenzie’s Athens 800 freestyle relay teammate, took second place and gained an individual bid to the Montreal World Championships with a personal record of 1:59.28. She held off a great swim from former butterfly specialist Lara Davenport (1:59.49). The 21-year-old Davenport has been training under Narelle Simpson this past year, who previously coached Elka Graham to a place on the Sydney Olympic team. Sprinter Libby Lenton did not contest the 200 final after posting a 1:59.86 in the prelims. She's content to be considered as a relay option.
Travis Nederpelt toughed out a win in a closely fought 200 butterfly final, getting past Andrew Richards in final lap to finish 1:57.03 to 1:57.48. Both were under the qualifying standard.
Brenton Rickard set his second Aussie breaststroke record at this meet, having already lowered his own mark in the two-lap race. Tuesday, he trimmed .11 off his national record in the 50, touching in 28.02 to hold off his AIS training partner Mark Riley (28.08). Both swimmers made the world champs qualifying time.
In semifinal action:
Former world record-holder Michael Klim produced an outstanding swim in the 100 freestyle, touching in 49.28. It was the best performance over the distance for several years by the three-time Olympian who has battled serious injuries since 2001. Andrew Mewing (50.08) and Ashley Callus (50.19) were next fastest. Callus, a gold medalist in 2000, has already announced he would not be available for the world championships.
Leith Brodie was fastest qualifier in the 200 IM, clocking 2:02.57 to head Athens Olympian Adam Lucas (2:04.07)
Stephanie Rice slashed more than three seconds off her PR to be the surprise fastest qualifier in the 200 butterfly. The 16-year-old Queenslander posted a time of 2:10.88 to head Olympians Jessica Schipper (2:11.02) and Felicity Galvez (2:11.18) into the final.
Giaan Rooney clocked a swift 28.65 to become the fastest qualifier in the 50 backstroke, just in front of Sophie Edington in a 28.67 (PR) and Tay Zimmer 28.90. Rooney’s Commonwealth record of 28.51 should fall in the final.