Final Countdown for Aussie Big Guns: Thorpe, Hackett, Jones and Thomas finish Grand Prix Meet in Style

By Stephen J. Thomas

BRISBANE, Australia, July 11. AUSTRALIA'S best put on an impressive show on the final night of the Grand Prix event, which marked the end of a weeklong team camp for the Olympic team. Bear in mind the times you are seeing here are largely unrested. In fact many of the swimmers have hardly broken from their routine of 10-14km per day plus time in the gym while racing heats and finals.

Already mentioned in an earlier dispatch “our” Miss Jones, looking lean and determined after months of “the hardest training I’ve ever done”. Jones (pictured after her WR)is in simply sensational form with a world record 2:22.96 over 200 breaststroke and the two fastest times globally this year in the two-lap race 1:07.03 and 1:07.13 this past week.

World record-holder Ian Thorpe pulled on his slick black suit for the 200 freestyle tonight and was certainly out to test himself after being edged in this race for only the second time by Grant Hackett earlier in the week 1:49.18 – 1:49.27. (Thorpe’s previous defeat by Hackett was in the final of the 2001 Goodwill Games in this pool where the Aussies had a walkover event against an under-strength World All-Stars – the teammates cruised stroke for stroke Hackett went 1:50.63 to Thorpe's 1:50.66).

Hackett was missing from the 200 free tonight – after qualifying fastest in the heats in 1:49.34 – having decided to swim his signature 1500 freestyle. In his absence the Thorpedo destroyed the rest of the field turning in 52.27 (his WR split is 51.45) and powered home to touch in 1:45.61. Thorpe’s times was notable in its positive comparison with the winning time of 1:46.27 clocked by Michael Phelps at the US trials yesterday. Thorpe did not want to be drawn on the comparison after his swim; simply saying he felt his time was good while still in full training.

Back to that man Hackett and his 1500 challenge tonight. His teammate Craig Stevens had skipped the race so his plan was to swim it “easy” if that’s possible for a swimmer that has dominated the race for almost eight years. The 24-year-old Queenslander cruised the distance in 15:02.40 (800m: 8:04.63), most other aspirants would hardly dream of such a time in this stage of their preparations. There is no question Hackett is in fine shape leading into Athens, a far cry from the swimmer that was struggling with illness prior to Sydney.

Petria Thomas had her final race before Athens in the 200 fly having taken sliver in ‘96 and bronze in 2000 in this event. There is no question that Thomas is in the best form of her career, sure she’s in great shape but add a large scoop of confidence that was not her trademark earlier in her career. The 28-year-old Thomas clocked an impressive 2:08.79 tonight (turning in 1:01.31) but what was also encouraging from an Aussie view was the way 19-year-old Felicity Galvez chased Thomas down the final lap to touch in 2:09.93 (PR 2:08.33).

Middle-distance rising-star Linda Mackenzie swam a determined race in the 400 free to hold of a strong finish from the more experienced Elka Graham 4:10.15 to 4:10.22. Medley specialist, 17-year-old Lara Carroll swam an eye-catching 400IM to win in 4:44.03 (PR 4:42.35) while Melissa Morgan (2:14.22) took the 200 backstroke from New Zealand dorsal specialist Hanna McLean (2:14.24).

In the men’s events Brett Hawke took the 50 free in 22.46 with Jono Newton next in 22.96 and rookie Olympian Eamon Sullivan equaling his PR in 22.99.
Olympic 400 free gold medalist Ashley Callus missed the two-day meet due to coming down with the flu.
Matt Welsh cruised to a win in the 100 backstroke touching in 55.03 and said he was pleased he would be renewing his competition with American world record-holder Lenny Krayzelberg in Athens. Welsh took the silver behind Krayzelberg in Sydney but it will be Aaron Pierson that will be the man to beat time round.
Iron-man Justin Norris just edged out his younger rival Adam Lucas in the 200IM pulling him back in the final strokes 2:02.01 to 2:02.18. Lucas was only 0.24 of a second outside his PR from the Olympic trials.

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