By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, March 29. WORLD record-holder Ian Thorpe put aside the drama of his disqualification in the 400 freestyle on the first day of competition, showing the metal of a true champion when he swam the seventh fastest 200 freestyle in history – 1:45.07 – with his teammate and great rival Grant Hackett just over half-a-second adrift in a PR 1:45.61. In third place, world championships rookie Nick Sprenger touched in a PR 1:48.77 to move past the great Kieren Perkins as eighth all-time Aussie performer.
Thorpe was .10 of a second under his world record pace at the 50-meter mark (24.71), then just slipped over by +0.04 at the half-way stage (51.49), had a strong third fifty to be back at 0.30 under in 1:17.96 before touching just 1.01 seconds off his global standard set at the 2001 World Champs. It was the seventh fastest swim over the distance all-time giving Thorpe eight of the ten best times for the event with Dutch rival Pieter vd Hoogenband holding the two others.
Hackett actually gained almost half a second on Thorpe over the final 50 meters in recording his fastest swim ever.
Seven of the eight finalists went under 1:50: Anthony Matkovich (PR 1:49.02), Todd Pearson (1:49.21), Craig Stevens (1:49.50) and Andrew Mewing (1:49.97).
Women’s 100 Breaststroke
Tonight’s meeting between world record-holder Leisel Jones and the in-form Brooke Hanson was billed as a showdown, with the experienced Hanson very keen to make her first Olympic team after just missing selection in ’96 and ’00. Tonight the 26-year-old Hanson made a powerful statement to Jones, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, that she would be one of the main contenders for the gold medal under the blazing sun in Athens.
It was Tarnee White, a finalist in this event in Sydney, taking the race very fast – in fact 0.09 of a second under world record pace in 31.31. Hanson was in second place turning in 31.89, with Jones third in 32.08. White blew up in the final lap to finish fifth, but it was Hanson who came home best in a very quick 1:07.17 with Jones well beaten in 1:08.07. Hanson’s time moved her past Sam Riley to second Aussie performer and fifth all-time performer globally.
Women’s 100 Backstroke
Giaan Rooney made her second Olympic team and won her third national title in this event when the 21-year-old swam a controlled race to win comfortably from lane four in a PR 1:01.63. Her most likely rival, Sophie Edington, was fastest to the turn in 29.98, but tired under the flags to let 18-year-old Queenslander Marieke Guehrer ‘steal’ an Olympic berth from lucky lane eight in a PR 1:02.33. Unfortunately for Edington she had qualified for the final in a PR 1:02.32 just 0.01 of a second faster, but touched in 1:02.46 for third place in the final.
Guehrer, who trains with Libby Lenton under coach Stephan Widmar in Brisbane, had been concentrating of butterfly and freestyle until last year when her coach talked her into converting her attention to backstroke where the chance for an Olympic place was more open. He was right.
Men’s 100 Backstroke
Matt Welsh, the Olympic silver medalist in this even, won his fifth straight national title over Josh Watson, who came 4th in the same Olympic final in 2000. The 27-year-old Welsh clocked a very solid 54.62 to Watson’s 55.18, with promising 16-year-old Andrew Lauterstein third in a PR 55.44 – 4th fastest Aussie performer. His time will surely come soon.