Fiji’s Robert Probert Wins the 50 Free at Oceania Games, as Australia Dominates

SUVA, Fiji, May 17. IT'S not exactly Athens, but the atmosphere in the capital of the Fiji Islands is certainly more relaxed and the swimming is of an equally high level at the Oceania Championships here.

The meet began Saturday (May 15) and continues through next Saturday.

To no one's surprise, Australia has dominated the competition's first two days, setting eight meet records.

There's no Ian Thorpe or Grant Hackett or Michael Klim here for the folks from Oz, but they're hardly needed.

The record-busting began early Saturday when Aussie veteran Josh Krogh splashed to a 1:51.81 win i the 200m free, slicing 0.06 off the previous mark held by Athens Olympian Nicholas Sprenger.

The latter did his 1:51.87 at the Championships two years ago in Noumea.

Krogh followed his 200 win with a 3:55.68 meet mark in the 400m free Sunday. Both swims were well off hs prs of 1:49.92/3:51.77 from the Olympic Trials in March.

New Zealand got on the board Sunday when butterflyer Corney Swanepoel won the 100 in 53.30, a meet record but almost a full second off his pr/NR of 52.50 from the Kiwi Olympic Trials last month.

Swanepoel is a transplanted South African who first represented his adopted homeland at last summer's World Championships in Barcelona. The 18-year-old hopes to make a splash at Athens and has dropped more than two seconds in the sprint fly in the last couple of years.

Runner-up was Papua New Guinea's Ryan Pini (54.06). He's been a pr/NR 53.78 earlier this season and is another Pacific Islander hoping to make a splash at the Olympics. Pini's also a talented backstroker and has gone 55+ this year in the 100.

Opening day saw Pini splash to victory in the 50 back (26.83), with his time setting an Oceania record. He touched just ahead of Kiwi Scott Talbot-Cameron (27.06) with Australian Michael Jackson third (27.31). Talbot-Cameron has been a member of Coach David Marsh's NCAA Championship Auburn Tigers team the past two seasons and was a finalist in the 200 backstroke and butterfly at the Southeastern Conference Championships last March at Georgia. He aslo scored at NCAAs in the 200 fly and will represent the Kiwis in Athens.

His teammate, Helen Norfolk, raced to her country's first gold in the women’s 400 individual medley in 4:52.78. Australian Stephanie Rice took silver (4:56.09).

Krogh said he was "happy with my swims considering the circumstances. I had a week off after trials. That was a good thing, and by the time it was up I was keen to get back into the water.

“My main objective is to compete strongly at the World Short Course Trials (early September). I obviously want to make an open team but I love coming away to these meets. They are generally smaller, tight-knit teams and you know everyone really well and the support you get is phenomenal.”

Fellow AIS [Australian Institute of Sport] teammate Jade Edmistone fought hard to crack the second Oceania record on Saturday and succeeded by winning the 50 breast (32.43). Sally Foster (AUS) won silver (32.46).

The third record on opening night came in the final race, the women’s 800 freestyle relay, where Australia's " B" team of Stephanie Williams, Alicia Coutts, Karina Leane and Briody Murphy stopped the clock in 8:14.80.

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Sunday began on a record-breaking note too, as South Australian Mitchell Bacon produced an upset in the 400 IM by winning over veteran New Zealand Olympian Dean Kent. Bacon splashed to a 4:26.41 victory over Kent, who finished in 4:27.55. Aussies Jackson (4:29.94) and Ephraim Hannant (4:29.95) were third and fourth.

The Australian "A" men's 400 free sprint relay tream won a convincing gold (3:25.97), as the team of Krogh, Andrew Lauterstein, Andrew Richards and Leith Brodie finished just outside the meet record.

In the women's 200 fly finals, Alicia Coutts (AUS) scored a nice come-from-behind victory over teammate Lara Davenport, winning in 2:17.96 to the latter's 2:18.99.

New Zealand returned to the top of the podium as Alison Fitch won a close 100 freestyle final (57.54), ahead of Australia’s Danni Miatke (57.62) and Alicia Coutts (57.80).

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Australia returned to its winning ways in the women’s 800 freestyle. It was Briody Murphy clocking a gold medal performance and meet record 8:42.22. Aussies Stephanie Williams (8:44.19) and Hayley Reddaway (8:50.59) made it a trifecta.

Murphy was happy with her performance but was more excited by the all Australian podium finish.

“Leading into this meet I was a bit tired, but I am extremely happy with the time. I didn’t have a break at Trials so under the circumstances it was a great result,” she said

One of the highlights of the night came when Fijian native, 28-year-old Carl Probert, won his nation's debut gold in the men’s 50 meter freestyle final in a pr/NR 23.44. Second went to 31-year-old Gilles Dumesnil (23.70) while 16 year-old Australian Andrew Lauterstein won the bronze in 23.79.

Queenslander Krogh continued his fine form via his 400 freestyle meet record (3:55.68), just ahead of fellow AISer Brendon Hughes (3:56.92) and Andrew Thompson (3:58.95). Krogh now has four golds in two days.

Yet another Aussie, Danni Miatke, struck gold in 50 butterfly with his record-breaking 27.33 with New Zealanders, Elizabeth Coster (28.01) and Georgina Toomey (28.06) taking silver and bronze placings.

The records kept coming as Miatke's compatriot, Andrew Burns, won the 200 back in 2:01.77. It was an all-Australian podium finish with Jackson (2:05.46) and Leith Brodie (2:06.11). Burns' pr is 1:59.45 from the semis of the Trials.

The fifth and final record came in the men’s 800 freestyle relay, where the team of Andrew Thompson, Ephraim Hannant, Brendon Hughes and Krogh smashed the previous mark — set in 2002 — by nearly six seconds with their 7:31.34.

The women’s 200 meter breaststroke was a great race too, with Australia winning the first two placings courtesy of Foster (2:32.70) and Edmistone (2:34.67); and it was an Australian sweep in the women’s 100 meter backstroke as Karina Leane (1:03.90), Stephanie Williams (1:04.33) and Stephanie Rice (1:04.56) went one-two-three.

Oz' Mark Riley won the 100s breaststroke to score his first gold (1:03.34), ahead of teammate James Beasley's 1:03.85.

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