By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia. March 17. ALICE Mills became only the fifth woman to go under the magical 54-second barrier in an exciting race that certainly had the small crowd attending the Australian Nationals and World Championship Trials on the edge of their seats.
The 18-year-old Queenslander, who only this year moved to the Australian Institute of Sport with her coach Shannon Rollason, had been very much in the shadow of her Olympic gold medal winning relay teammates Jodie Henry and Libby Lenton. At this meet last year, Lenton broke Inge de Bruijn’s world mark in the semifinal only to lose the final to Henry. Then in Athens, it was Henry who again upstaged Lenton, breaking her record and taking the individual gold medal while Lenton failed to qualify for the final.
Tonight it was the turn of Mills to take the spotlight. Lenton took the race out hard, under world record pace as she did in the semifinal, turning in 25.68. Mills was next in 26.09 and Henry was characteristically slower to get going but turned in 26.40. On the home straight it was Mills and Henry on either side of Lenton who lengthened their strokes, gradually edging closer. Under the flags Lenton looked to be tightening-up and both got past – Mills 53.96, Henry 54.18 with Lenton missing an individual World Champs swim in 54.26. (Lenton and Mills pictured after Olympic gold and WR in 400 free relay)
The performance of world record-holder Jodie Henry was all the more impressive given her limited preparation for this meet, suggesting she will again be the one to beat in Montreal. Both Shayne Reese 55.52 and Sophie Edington 55.71 swam PR’s to take fourth and fifth positions for that all-important final place on the Aussie relay team.
The all-time fastest performances over the 100m freestyle:
53.52 Jodie Henry AUS Athens 8/18/2004
53.66 Libby Lenton AUS Sydney 3/31/2004
53.77 Henry AUS Sydney 3/31/2004
53.77 Inge de Bruijn NED Sydney 9/20/2000
53.80 de Bruijn NED Sheffield 5/29/2000
53.83 de Bruijn NED Sydney 9/20/2000
53.84 Henry AUS Athens 8/19/2004
**53.96 Alice Mills AUS Sydney 3/17/2005**
53.99 Natalie Coughlin USA Yokohama 8/29/2002
54.01 de Bruijn NED Federal Way 7/20/2000
54.01 Le Jingyi CHN Rome 9/5/1994
Jim Piper easily won his fourth consecutive 200m breaststroke title, clocking 2:10.76 – just 0.06 outside his national mark set here last year. Brenton Rickard, winner of the 50-100 double in Australian record time was 0.02 ahead of Piper at the halfway mark but Piper moved ahead in the third lap and extended his lead to the wall. Piper slightly mistimed his touch which probably cost him the Commonweath record which stands at 2:10.69 held by Brit Ian Edmond.
It’s been a great meet for Brenton Rickard who took over one second off his previous best to touch in 2:12.72, putting his failure to win Olympic selection well behind him. Rob McDonald finished in third place in a PR 2:14.98.
Olympic silver medalist Leisel Jones dominated the 200m breaststroke final clocking 2:25.51. In the absence of Brooke Hanson, the main competition was expected to come from ’03 World Champs representative Sarah Katsoulis who was fastest qualifier in 2:28.27. However, Jones led by almost two seconds at the halfway stage and went further away from Katsoulis, who faded to finish in 2:28.71. Unfortunately for Katsoulis, she needed to equal her PR of 2:28.21 set last year when she finished third to Jones and Hanson to miss Olympic selection.
As expected, veteran Matt Welsh comfortably won his fifth 200m backstroke title in a solid 1:59.54. The 28-year-old dual Olympian, who by his own admission prefers the shorter dorsal races, held a comfortable lead throughout the race with closest challengers Andrew Burns 2:00.42 and Ethan Rolff 2:01.00 failing to make the qualifying time.
Aussie record-holder for the 50m freestyle, 29-year-old Brett Hawke, looked in excellent form splashing a very sharp 22.39 to set up a very strong prospect to take his fourth sprint title in tomorrow night's final. Jeff English, 27, was not far off his best to be next in 22.75. Perhaps we might see a challenge from the young guns Olympian Eamon Sullivan who took 0.14 off his PR to clock 22.85, Matt Lenton a PR 22.92 or Jono Newton 22.99. Two-time winner, Ashley Callus made it through in 22.99.
Former world record-holder Michael Klim was fastest in the 100m fly in 53.61 from Andrew Richards 53.83 and veteran Adam Pine 53.84. Klim has not done much specific butterfly training in preparation for this meet to avoid putting too much stress on his back but with Geoff Huegill not competing, the event certainly is not a strength for the Aussies.
Danni Miatke, silver medallist behind Aussie record-holder Petria Thomas last year, was fastest qualifier in the 50m fly recording a PR 26.74 but ominously just behind the 17-year-old Victorian are Olympic golden girls Alice Mills (PR 26.91) and Libby Lenton (27.06). All three girls were well under the qualifying standard of 27.23.
Olympic semi-finalist Francis Adcock was fastest qualifier for the 200m backstroke in 2:14.26 from 15-year-old surprise package Amy Lucas (PR 2:14.65) edging out Aussie 50-100 champion, Giaan Rooney (2:14.69) with Tay Zimmer (2:14.91), ’03 titleholder Zoe Tonks (2:15.74) and 50-100 qualifier Sophie Edington (2:16.40) all in the mix. Lucas, who finished sixth in this event last year, is the younger sister of Adam Lucas a qualifier in the 200m IM. It will be interesting to see if she is able to step-up in this vastly more experienced field to join her brother on the team.