By Craig Lord
SHEFFIELD, March 23. COMMONWEALTH records for James Gibson, of 1:00.47 over 100m breaststroke, and Katy Sexton, with 2:09.27 over 200m backstroke, were the highlights of a solid final session of the British Trials here at Ponds Forge Pool in Sheffield.
Sexton and Sarah Price, respectively Commonwealth champions past and present, locked horns in a tense and tight battle over 200m backstroke that ended in victory in a Commonwealth record of 2:09.27 for Sexton, with Price's 2:09.93 – 0.65sec inside her now former British record – representing the second time any woman from a Commonwealth country had dipped below 2mins 10sec.
Australian Nicole Stevenson had held the standard at 2:10.02 since finishing third at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, where Sexton and Price will challenge for the world title this summer. Sexton's time would have won the crown when last the world gathered to compete, in Japan 2001, and is the eighth fastest ever, Price's the tenth.
Price, coached by Rhys Gormley in Barnet, London, admitted to being "seriously disappointed" at having lost to Sexton, coached by Chris Nesbitt at Portsmouth Northsea, for a second time in a week, the 1998 Commonwealth champion over 200m having beaten the 2002 Commonwealth champion over 100 and 200m over the shorter distance last Thursday.
"She's a great competitor," said Price. "Part of the reason why all of my times have come on. But I'm not the sort of person who's just going to sit down and take this lightly." The rivalry will continue this week when they train together at an camp in Loughborough for those ranked in the top 16 in the world.
For Gibson the camp will mark a jubilant return home. His 1:00.47 victory over Bath's Darren Mew, on a best time of 1:00.74, shaved 0.22sec off his own record, represents the sixth fastest performance in history and would have won every Olympic and world title in history barring Sydney in 2000 by 0.01sec and Fukuoka in 2001 by 0.31sec.
Gibson put his ability to go out fast – his half-way split was inside world record pace – down to being able to train in a long-course pool since last summer when the £9-million lottery funded facility opened at Loughborough University. "I'm over the moon with that swim and grateful for those who buy lottery tickets," said Gibson.
Men's 800m Freestyle
This was classic Home Nations three-way battle, Graeme Smith, the "Braveheart" of the British squad and silver medal winner behind Grant Hackett in Fukuoka, pinning his Scottish colours proudly to the mast with a 7:54.11 victory over Welshman David Davies, just 18, secured in the same way he had nailed victory over Davies in the 1,500m – in a final 100m sprint.
It was close call nonetheless: Davies was just 0.64sec behind Smith by the end and 7.38sec inside the Welsh record he had established at the 800-metre mark of the 1,500 metres here at the Trials, while Adam Faulkner of Nova Centurion in Nottingham, who led at the half-way stage but started to pay the price with 250 metres to go, finished third on 8: 00.86, just missing the English record of 8:00.63 set by Ian Wilson on his way to finishing second behind Germany's Jorg Hoffmann in the 1,500 metres at the European championships in Athens in 1991.
"I knew I had a lot left in my legs in the last 100m," said Smith. "It was my age and experience that got me through. Adam is a class swimmer and Dave is getting better with every race. But I'm delighted to have made the team on all three events (400, 800 and 1,500m)."
Women's 100m Freestyle
Alison Sheppard, the Commonwealth 50m champion, had lowered her own Scottish record from 55.78 to 55.38 in the semi-final of the 100m freestyle on Saturday. She won the British title for the first time in 55.42, a time that while 0.15sec outside the automatic qualifying time for the World Championships is likely to see her race the individual event in Barcelona: she has a right to the first spot on the 4x100m relay and is faster than top 16 in the world last year.
She led three other women below the 56-seconds mark, Karen Legg, of Ferndown, taking the silver in 55.80, Melanie Marshall, of Loughborough, the bronze in 55.91, and Kathryn Evans, of Nova Centurion, fourth on 55.96.
"I'm really pleased with the way training is going," said Sheppard. "It's all going in the right direction for Athens next year."
The British record of 55.03 established by Susan Rolph when she became the first British woman to win a European title for 40 years in Istanbul in 1999. On that occasion, Rolph beat Inge de Bruijn into second before the Dutchwoman underwent a dramatic change in form that saw her become Olympic champion in an extraordinary time of 53.77 seconds in Sydney.
Men's 50m Freestyle
Mark Foster, the world short-course record holder over 50 metres freestyle, has work still to do in the long-course pool. His British reord has stood at 22.13 seconds since May 1991. In Sheffield he retained his British title in 22.65sec, a comfortable victory but one which did not qualify him for Barcelona, neither directly or through the second-swim rule.
"It just felt very much like a training swim," said Foster. "I'm disappointed with that time. I'll definitely make it to Barcelona – I don't go into any championship believing I can't win it, but that time wouldn't get me in the final."
Men's 200m Butterfly
Stephen Parry, coached by Sean Kelly in Stockport, booked his ticket to Barcelona with a commanding 1:56.65 victory in the 200 metres butterfly. The time was just 0.31sec outside his own British record from Seattle in 2000 when Parry trained in the United States.
However, the duel usually expected between him and long-time rival James Hickman, of Leeds, simply did not materialise. The race was effectively over after Parry placed himself almost a body length ahead coming out of the first turn. Hickman finished a distant second in 2:00.04, with Todd Cooper, of Stirling, third in 2:01.23.
Parry said: "I think the selection policy is tough. There's a lot of champions struggling at this time of year. But if we can do these times now, it looks good for the summer."
Women's 100m Breaststroke
Jaime King, the baby of the 1992 Olympic team at 15, did what she is best at, making national teams, as she clocked a British record of 1:09.00 to win the 100m breaststroke title and qualify for a place in Barcelona. Though she has never excelled at any international she has ever competed in, she has proved to be tough to beat on the domestic scene in one of the weakest events in Britain.
King, 26, had watched Rachel Genner, of Coventry, clock 1: 09.01 to slice 0.61sec off the British record that had been King's since the trials for the last world championships in April 2001.
In the final Genner turned on 32.55 seconds, a touch behind Zoe Baker, world record holder over 50m, and ahead of King. King slowly wore Genner down as the pair battled towards the time pads, with Baker falling quickly behind and eventually finishing seventh on 1:11.73.
Genner's final time was 1:09.44, with Coventry teammate 14-year-old Grace Callaghan third on 1:10.19.
The second berth in Barcelona will be decided at three events between now and the Scottish Championships in Glasgow in June.
Men's 100m Backstroke
Gregor Tait, of Edinburgh, having been beaten by James Goddard over 50m and 200m, finally managed to keep his Stockport rival at bay to retain his British title in the 100 metres in 55.76 seconds, well outside the British record of 55.00 set by Martin Harris in Sheffield 1995, outside the time he needs to take him to Barcelona but 0.15sec inside the Scottish record he set in June 2001.
Goddard was second on 56.32, with Nathan Oxford, of Nova Centurion, third on 57.00.
Women's 400m Freestyle
Rebecca Cooke, coached by Australian Stephen Hill, clocked 4:11.04 to win the weakest of her distance events, and was pleased to hear that she was faster than the time in which it took Elka Graham to win the Australian trials in Sydney.
Women's 100m Butterfly
In the absence of Britain's best two butterfly women, US-based Georgina Lee and Margaretha Pedder, the title went to Alex Savage, Legg's Ferndown teammate, in 1:01.65.
Men's 400m Medley
There was no qualifier in this event, the title going to Bath's Robin Francis in 4:20.16.