By Ian Hanson
ADELAIDE, South Australia, June 29. ADELAIDE wasn't the happiest of hunting grounds for former world record holder and Olympic champion Libby Trickett last night but Australia's fastest-ever female freestyler now has nine months to set the record straight. Trickett, a member of Australia's "Comeback team" for next year's London Olympics, finished sixth in a specially convened time trial for the final spot in Australia's FINA World Championship team at the new multi-million dollar South Australian Aquatic & Leisure Centre in Marion.
Trickett couldn't hide the tears as she sunk her head into her towel on pool deck, knowing her first opportunity to rejoin the Australian team had vanished in 55.68 – one of four Beijing Olympians to miss the cut.
The place in Australia's team for Shanghai went to 2004 Athens backstroking Olympian, defending 50m butterfly world champion from Rome, Marieke Guehrer in a sizzling 54.29 – just 0.08 outside her 2009 suited personal best. The men's time trial went to Queensland's 2009 World Championship team member, Kyle Richardson in 48.89 – making him the sixth Australian in the top 25 in the world so far in 2011.
Australia's national head coach Leigh Nugent broke from recent protocols to give his relay swimmers a last chance to better the fifth-placed times in the 100m and 200m freestyle and it has certainly raised a lot of interest down under. For Guehrer, her 54.29 would have placed her second in this year's Australian championship final behind Commonwealth Games gold medallist Alicia Coutts, who won the National crown in 53.80.
Guehrer left a class field in her wake – including the entire bronze medal-winning women's 4x100m freestyle relay team from Beijing – with Mel Schlanger fifth (55.33), Trickett sixth (55.68), Cate Campbell seventh (55.72) and Alice Mills ninth (55.82).
Trickett will now get the chance to return to competition in earnest at the Australian Short Course Championships, starting tomorrow, before the class of 2008 face some hard yards when Adelaide again plays host to the Olympic Trials (March 15-22) next year.
"I got really emotional tonight and while it wasn't the result I was looking for I am still happy at how I executed that swim," said Trickett. "While the time wasn't the best, I am happy with where I'm at and just pleased to be back racing and looking forward to the rest of the ride and swimming at Short Course this weekend. I'm just proud of where I've come from in the last nine months and I'm really excited about the future."
Having missed the 100m final at the Australian Championships in Sydney in April, Guehrer, the 25-year-old FINA World Cup star from 2009, led from start to finish and the emphatic victory should see Guehrer compete in her second world championships. The bonus for Guehrer now will be the opportunity for her not only to be part of the 4x100m freestyle relay but also to defend the 50m butterfly gold she won in Rome after she won the National title in Sydney. With the 50 form stroke not part of the selection policy, she had to qualify in another event and that finally came last night in emphatic fashion.
"I have been putting some really good swims together in training and it was great to just come out here tonight and execute the race I know I could," said Guehrer. "I can empathise with Libby as I retired in 2007 and it took me about a year and a half before I put together a good 100m swim. But she is a true champion and I have no doubt she will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012."
With the Beijing girls floundering somewhat, the next generation were hot to trot with 14-year-old Year 9 student at Sydney's Willoughby Girls High, Ami Matsuo (Carlile Swim Club) finished second to Guehrer in 55.11. The Justin Rothwell trained Matsuo recently won the National Age 14 years 100 m freestyle gold medals, also in Adelaide, winning selection in Australia's Commonwealth Games Youth Team.
"When I was smaller, I used to look up to her (Trickett), she's one of my favourite swimmers," Ami said in a recent interview.
The next time they meet in a long course meet in Adelaide there will be Olympic places at stake. Third place went to 19-year-old Jessica Morrison, also from Pope's Melbourne Vicentre club, clocking 55.14, with Cate Campbell's sister Bronte Campbell (Indooroopilly, Qld) fourth in 55.24.
In the men's 100m freestyle trial it was Richardson who grabbed a place on his second world championship team with a clear win. The Commonwealth Games relay gold medallist from Delhi, who has just returned from a six-day training camp with Ian Thorpe under Gennadi Touretski in Switzerland, hit the wall in 48.89, just 0.06 of a second faster than the 48.95 required to be considered for selection. The 24-year-old, who is also coached by Stephan Widmer at the Chandler club and trains alongside Trickett said he was torn as to whether to compete in the trial or not.
"I was 50/50 whether or not I wanted to go to the world championships or just focus on my training for Olympic Trials next year," said Richardson. "I think not going to world championships this year could have made me hungrier for next year, but in saying that I'm really happy to be on the team and it's good to be up there near my best and mixing it with all the other boys as well."
Gold Coast teenager and this year's National Age star, Cameron McEvoy finished second in the time trial in 49.92 while Pan Pac and Delhi relay swimmer Cameron Prosser from the AIS was third in 49.96. Relay selection time trials for the men's and women's 200m freestyle at the SA Aquatic and Leisure centre tomorrow from 10.00am along with the women's 1500m and men's 800m freestyle before the three-day Australian Short Course Championships start in earnest on Friday.
Special thanks to Swimming Australia for contributing to this report.