By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, March 25. EVER since Elka Graham swam a 1:58.54 leading off the ill-fated Aussie 800 freestyle relay team at the World Championships in Fukuoka in 2001 that won, then lost after a premature celebration had them DQ’ed, Graham has dreamed about getting under 1:59 again.
A poor race in the individual event at the same meet saw her finish out of the medals behind fellow teammate Giaan Rooney. In the early part of last year she struggled with her form in this event, although she went on to take bronze at the Commonwealth (2:00.07) and silver at the Pan Pacs (1:59.72) in August.
On her return Graham made a big decision: to leave Narelle Simpson, her coach of almost ten years, and move to Brian Sutton at the Sydney University club. After taking the freestyle treble (100, 200, 400) at the World Cup in Melbourne in December, it was clear that the 21-year-old was ready to make a big move this year.
Women’s 200m freestyle:
Tonight Elka Graham achieved her goal and the smile on her face was infectious as she pumped her fists in victory – a winning time of 1:58.96 – her best individual swim over the four laps and all the more impressive, as she had not tapered for the meet.
Graham controlled her race well, content to let Petria Thomas lead for the first half of the race. Thomas, squeezing in yet another final before her shoulder operation, turned in 58.14 to Graham’s 58.42, but by the 150-mark Graham was over one second in front with Heidi Crawford and Linda MacKenzie right on the heels of Thomas.
Graham pulled away from the field with her University training partner, Kirsten Thompson coming home with the fastest final 50 split in the race – 30.36 – to snatch silver in 2:00.91 by just 0.10 from Crawford (PR 2:01.01) and MacKenzie a touch back in 4th in a PR 2:01.12. Thomas finished 5th in 2:01.26 but will making the trip to the surgeon not to Barcelona.
For 19-year-old Thompson it was a great return to form having failed to make major Australian teams since picking up Olympic silver in the 800 free relay as a rookie in 2000.
Graham said after the race: "It’s been a big confidence-booster moving to the new squad, he (Sutton) is a great coach. I’m excited about the 100 tomorrow; this is something I’ve come to the meet to do. I only decided to do the 400 a week or so ago, so the 200 and 100 have always been the main focus."
Men’s 50m breaststroke:
Twenty-year-old Mark Riley swam a perfectly timed race to snatch gold by 0.01 of a second from Brenton Rickard who had the race in his grasp but mistimed his finish. Riley, a Queenslander, who recently moved to the AIS in Canberra to train with breaststroke coach Barry Prime, clocked a PR 28.39. The unfortunate Rickard touched in 28.40 for silver, after setting a national record 28.26 in the semis. Victorian Nathan Crook took the bronze in 28.92. Former national record-holder, 31-year-old Phil Rogers finished 4th in 29.01.
Men’s 200m butterfly:
Olympic bronze medalist and defending title-holder Justin Norris moved to the front of the field in the all-important second half of the race to touch the pads in 1:57.49, well outside his Australian record 1:56.17 from Sydney 2000.
Seventeen-year-old West Aussie, Travis Nederpelt swam a PR 1:58.92 to just hold on to the silver medal and qualification for the World Championships by the smallest possible margin – 0.01. Nederpelt, better known for his distance freestyle, held off a rapidly closing Joshua Krogh who took bronze in 1:58.99.
Men’s 100m freestyle:
Triple world record-holder, Ian Thorpe, was the only man under 50 seconds and first into the final with a comfortable 49.71 (split 24.18). World Short Course champ Ashley Callus clocked 50.11, ahead of Olympic gold medalist Todd Pearson 50.13 and Queenslander Casey Flouch 50.46. Distance king Grant Hackett qualified equal sixth in 50.58 and will be aiming to get under the 50-second mark tomorrow night to become the first swimmer to break 50 seconds and 15 minutes for the 1500.
Men’s 200m breaststroke:
Regan Harrison (2:15.07), the winner of the 100-meter title, led the qualifiers after finishing ahead of Pan Pac silver medalist Jim Piper (2:15.59) in their semi-final clash followed by Luke Trickett 2:16.30 and Mark Riley 2:16.41, the gold medalist in the 50 breast earlier in the evening.
Women’s 200m butterfly:
World champion, Petria Thomas was fastest qualifier in the morning heat (2:09.38) but decided to scratch from the event to swim the final of the 200 free. In her absence 18-year-old Felicity Galvez swam an excellent 2:11.75 (PR 2:11.27) to be fastest qualifier from Lara Davenport 2:12.35 and 16-year-old Jessica Schipper (2:12.69), silver medalist in the 100 fly.
Women’s 50m backstroke:
Giaan Rooney continued to impress, after winning the 100 back yesterday, as fastest qualifier in 29.28 (not far out from her PR, 28.96). Eighteen-year-old Sophie Eddington clocked a PR 29.47 to be next fastest (4th best Aussie all-time), followed by Libby Lenton, the promising 18-year-old free/fly sprinter that swam this race to fill-in her program. Lenton clocked 29.63 (7th fastest Aussie all-time) for her efforts. Her coach Stephan Widmar said before the race: "It is just to keep her busy, she can’t swim backstroke." So it will be interesting to see how she does in the final tomorrow night.