By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, April 1. LAST night in the women’s two-lap sprint with no real pressure on the result, it was Libby Lenton who held the limelight with a sensational WR 53.66 and the former Australian record-holder, Jodie Henry, had to be content with equalling the second fastest time in history – 53.77. The third Queenslander Alice Mills was also worth a mention with her 54.26.
Tonight it was all about racing for an individual place under the Aegean sun in Athens. Henry, a noted back-half swimmer, was surprisingly first to turn in 25.92 (almost three-tenths of a second fastest than her split last night) while her two main rivals, the 50 free medalists from Barcelona trailed – Lenton 26.17 and Mills 26.26.
Henry did not lose much momentum on her return journey as she posted another stunning sub-54 time – 53.82 – the fifth fastest in history. In the race for that second individual swim, it was left to the world record-holder, Lenton, to hold off a gaining Mills under the flags to touch in 54.17 with Mills just 0.09 of a second behind in 54.26.
Henry and Lenton are now on their first Olympic team while Mills, who had already qualified in the 200 IM earlier in the week, showed her consistency by clocking an identical time on both nights. Lenton explained after the race that the excitement of last night had put a lot of pressure on the 19-year-old but she was happy with the result and making the team.
Amazingly, the times swum on both nights by the three young women from Brisbane would have been the three fastest in the world last year.
The popular 27-year-old AIS veteran Sarah Ryan was successful in her comeback attempt to make her third Olympic team when she took fourth place in the final tonight. Ryan was almost apologetic about her time of 55.71, although she has a PR of 54.94 to her credit and along with Petria Thomas (who clocked a prelim time of 54.92) will be a great influence on their younger teammates, serving to strengthen what will surly be one of the teams to beat in Athens
Women’s 200 Breaststroke:
Leisel Jones, the world record-holder over the two-lap race, made some amends for her second placing behind the in-form Brooke Hanson in the shorter race earlier in the week with a well-crafted swim tonight. Hanson took the race out fast, leading at the 100-meter mark in 1:10.79 from Sarah Kasoulis 1:10.90 and with Jones closing the gap in 1:10.96.
Hanson still held the lead at the 150, just 0.02 of a second from Jones. At the wall it was Australian record-holder Jones touching in a swift 2:24.88 from Hanson in yet another PR 2:25.95 – and her third individual swim in Athens. Kasoulis finished third in 2:30.47.
Men’s 200 Backstroke:
National and Commonwealth record-holder Matt Welsh had little trouble collecting his fourth title. The 27-year-old Olympic bronze medalist in this event led from the start to hit the wall in a very solid 1:58.91. The battle for the second Olympic berth was the real race with Ray Hass turning 2nd at the halfway mark from Patrick Murphy and fastest qualifier Andrew Burns and stayed in that order until the crucial final lap. Murphy was the man to step up tonight when it counted to touch second in a PR 2:00.13 just edging out the unlucky Burns 2:00.47 who swam a PR 1:59.45 (3rd all-time Aussie performer) in the semis.
Men’s 200 IM:
A resurgent Justin Norris made this event his third individual swim in Athens – albeit in three of the events that American superstar Michael Phelps hold impressive world records. Norris was close to front for the first two laps of this race then surged to the lead in the breaststroke leg and went away to record a PR 2:00.41.
It was also good news for the dynamic 20-year-old West Aussie Adam Lucas who took more than one second off his PR to touch in 2:01.94.37 and disappointment for 25-year-old AIS swimmer Grant McGregor who finished third in 2:02.15. McGregor had worked very hard to get back to this level competition after considerable time out of the water with illness.