By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, March 12. GRANT Hackett won his first Aussie 400-meter feestyle title way back in 1997 and of course took his second last year in sensational circumstances when Ian Thorpe was DQ’ed in the heats of the Olympic Trials.
Hackett was the favorite to go on to take the World Championship title in Perth after his first win but the then 15-year-old Thorpe powered past him in the final lap to take the first of three consecutive crowns in the eight-lap event. Hackett has been the bridesmaid each time.
Saturday, the 24-year-old Queenslander made it clear he will be looking for gold in Montreal this July when he powered to an impressive 3:44.44 – just over a second outside his silver medal winning time in Athens. Nic Sprenger stepped up a gear to record a PR 3:49.59 and also qualified for Montreal while former Canadian Kurtis MacGillivary took third in 3:51.83.
In the women’s final, Athens representative Linda MacKenzie had to call on all her determination to get past 16-year-old rookie Hayley Reddaway in the final lap. MacKenzie clocked 4:09.39 (not far outside her PR 4:08.46 set in the prelims in Athens) to edge out an impressive swim from the young Victorian 4:09.56 (7th all-time Aussie performer) who had showed her potential at the recent Junior Pan Pac Championships in Hawaii.
In semifinal action:
Jessica Schipper (58.68), Alice Mills (58.75, PR) and Libby Lenton (58.92) were the fastest three qualifiers for the 100 butterfly, setting up a world-class final Sunday. Lenton also clocked a final leg relay split of 54.05 to help her club Commercial to a new national 400 freestyle relay record.
Brooke Hanson was impressive clocking 2:14.17 to easily head Olympic finalist Lara Carroll 2:15.03 in the 200 IM. Hanson has a PR 2:13.14 in winning this title from Alice Mills last year but decided to skip the event in Athens to concentrate on the breaststroke events. Mills, the national record-holder at 2:12.47 has decided to skip this event to concentrate of the fly.
Jim Piper looked very sharp, clocking 1:01.73 to head national record-holder Brenton Rickard (1:02.15) in the 100 breaststroke.
Olympic 50 freestyle finalist Brett Hawke dominated the semifinals of the 50 fly splashing a PR 24.05. Reigning world champ Matt Welsh won’t be doing a repeat after being DQ’ed for an early start.