By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, March 19. THE Australian Championships and World Championship selection trials closed in style with the incomparable Grant Hackett cruising to his ninth consecutive national 1,500 freestyle title, in a time that would have taken gold in Athens. And 18-year-old Alice Mills posted the ninth fastest 50 freestyle performance in history to continue her world class form.
Tonight a fit and healthy Hackett added the 1500 free to his already impressive wins in the 200/400/800 earlier in the week. However, it was in his signature event where the world record-holder produced his best.
The 24-year-old Queenslander made it clear from the outset he was down to business turning at the 200 in 1:54.90, more than three seconds ahead of his nearest rival, training-partner Kurtis MacGillivary. By the the 800 mark, Hackett had increased his lead over the former Canadian champ by ten seconds (7:51.93) and extended himself in the final stages to touch in 14:44.94, the fastest ever swim Down Under and just outside his winning time in Athens of 14:43.40.
Unlike Athens, where he struggled to walk from the pool having nursed a serious lung infection, Hackett was in great shape after the race indicating he would have been capable of going significantly faster if he had been challenged.
Newly converted Aussie Kurtis MacGillivary (pictured with Hackett) rubbed salt in the wounds of Canadian swimming when he took just under three seconds off his previous PR – the current Canadian record – set in the prelims here last year to touch behind Hackett in 15:08.48 – and well under the qualifying time for the World Champs to be held in his former homeland. Perth teenager Travis Nederpelt took third in 15:31.32, just fifteen minutes after taking second placing in the final of the 400 IM, a tough ask in anyone’s book.
To reinforce Hackett’s legendary status over this the most arduous event on the swimming program, he has swum under the challenging 15-minute barrier on all but one of his nine wins over thirty laps at this meet – just failing back at his first championship win in 1997 when he clocked 15:01.46. To cap a great meet for the tripe Olympic gold medalist, Swimming Australia announced he would captain the Aussie team to compete in Montreal.
Alice Mills (pictured below) was glowing with confidence before the final of the 50 freestyle after her surprise victory over Olympic teammates Jodie Henry and Libby Lenton in the two-lap race earlier in the week. Mills won the silver medal at the Barcelona World Champs in this event behind Dutch world record-holder Inge de Bruign with Lenton taking bronze, and of course, Lenton won Olympic bronze in Athens last year.
Tonight the Queenslander once known as the “pocket rocket”, powered to the wall to win in a Commonwealth record 24.49, almost half-a-second under her previous best, lifting the now 5' 7’’/115lb teenager to third on the all-time performers list behind sprint legends Inky de Bruijn and Therese Alshammar. Lenton, the former Aussie record-holder at 24.70 took the silver in 24.86 and Henry bronze in 24.95 (not far outside her PR 24.92) with Olympic finalist Michelle Engelsman finishing fourth in 25.27.
All-time Top 10 Performers
24.13 Inge de Bruijn NED Sydney 9/22/00
24.44 Therese Alshammar SWE Helsinki 7/9/2000
24.49 Alice Mills AUS Sydney 3/19/2005
24.51 Jingyi Le CHN Rome 9/11/1994
24.63 Dara Torres USA Sydney 9/23/2000
24.68 Alison Sheppard GBR Manchester 8/2/2002
24.70 Libby Lenton AUS Sydney 3/15/2004
24.71 Ying Shan CHN Shanghai 1/10/1997
24.72 Sandra Völker Ger Braunschweig 5/16/2001
24.79 Yang Wenyi CHN Barcelona 7/31/1992
Jade Edmistone swam herself onto her first long course National team when she held her form to win the 50 breaststroke in 31.02, just 0.03 of a second in front of Brooke Hanson. Edmistone, 23, lowered the Aussie record twice in the prelims to stand at 30.74 but in the final it was more about a place on the team to Montreal and both girls easily made the standard. Sydney Olympics finalist Tarnee White, 23, was an unlucky third in a PR 31.13 that would have easily made most other teams for the World Champs.
Adam Lucas took the double in the individual medley with a solid win in the eight-lap race touching in 4:18.49 to defeat Athens teammate Travis Nederpelt 4:18.93. Both swimmers were under the qualifying standard. Leith Brodie, the silver medalist in the 200 IM, took third in 4:24.50.
Lara Carroll won the women’s 400 IM in 4:45.73, which was under the qualifying standard, holding off an impressive finish from 16-year-old Stephanie Rice 4:46.57 (PR) with distance specialist Sarah Paton third in 4:52.31.
Dorsal specialist Matt Welsh easily took his seventh 50 backstroke title, clocking a swift 25.23 – just .22 outside his Commonwealth record. Dual Olympian Josh Watson took second place in 25.68, which was outside the qualifying time with Ethan Rolff third in 26.08.
The West Coast men's 400 medley relay team set a new Aussie club record when they clocked 3:41.67. The Perth based club coached by Grant Stoelwinder took all three men's team events this week with the medley team featuring three Athens Olympians; Adam Lucas, Jim Piper and Eamon Sullivan. Piper (100-200 breaststroke) and Lucas (200-400IM) made the team along with coach Stoelwinder but Eamon Sullivan did not make it despite swimming faster than he did to qualify for Athens and taking third place in the 100 free this time around.
Interestingly, while several swimmers benefited from the absence of Ian Thorpe at this meet, Sullivan may well have missed a place in the squad for Montreal due to Thorpe’s absence. The likely 100 freestyle time produced by Thorpe, the Olympic bronze medalist, would have easily reduced the average of the top four finishers below the required relay qualifying time. If there is any consolation for the 19-year-old Sullivan, he clocked 49.01 to bring home the winning West Coast relay, which would adjust to around 49.7 with the flying start, easily his best time over the distance.