By Craig Lord
SHEFFIELD, England, March 21. LAST year, no other country in the world, including Australia's mighty Dolphins, produced two swimmers capable of a sub 15-minute 7-seconds swim over 1,500 metres freestyle.
Britain did today, Graeme Smith and David Davies engaging in a new domestic duel that may well one day turn into a David and Goliath battle, the 18-year-old Welshman against the 26-year-old Scot, and Olympic bronze and world silver medal winner.
For now the giant refuses to be slain. After an epic battle of wit and will, Smith retained the title and qualified to represent Great Britain in Barcelona this July in 15:05.44 to Davies' 15:06.03, a Welsh record by 11.94 seconds. Davies must wait until June, after the last selection event, to know whether he will join Smith in Barcelona.
Bill Sweetenham, the Australian at the helm of British swimming, responded in customary style: "Great race but there's a lot of work to do. They've got to be thinking sub 14mins 50sec. We're blessed with two superb boys. There's work to be done."
The pretender stuck to Smith's shoulder until taking charge of the race at the 600-metre mark. At the 800m mark he set his first record, ploughing 6.74sec inside his own Welsh record, at 8mins 02.13sec, 0.22sec ahead of the Scotsman who has spent his life in Stockport.
Smith – coached by Sean Kelly after his lifetime coach Dave Calleja left for Australia last year – played cat from 600m until the last two laps and Davies later admitted: "I tried three times to break him but he's so tough so hard to break. I kept thinking why won't he go away, leave me alone."
The greatest gap Smith allowed was 0.29sec and with two laps to go he caught Davies, coached by Dave Haller in Cardiff, on the hop with a sudden sprint. The result was sealed. Smith said: "That was one of my toughest races, I've got nothing but respect for Dave – as long as I stay ahead of him between now and Athens…and we get two medals not one, that'll be
fine by me."
Smith's Stockport teammate James Goddard also qualified with a 1:58.65 British record in the 200m backstroke, as did Barnet's Sarah Price with a 29.03 second British record over 50m backstroke.
Men's 50m breaststroke
Darren Mew defeated Commonwealth champion James Gibson to qualify for the world championships and put behind him a winter season that saw him struggle to withstand the pressure of a tough race-and-train World Cup tour
in January when his rivals thrived.
Mew, coached by Ian Turner at the University of Bath, had pain etched on his face every day during a nine-day tour with performance director Bill Sweetenham as he battled to fight the fatigue of training before, after and during races while trying to correct technical flaws that the director wanted to see "ironed out" and watching rivals Gibson, Chris Cook and Ian Edmond put in solid performance after performance.
Yesterday he retained his national title by 0.02sec over Gibson in 27.65sec, and sent a strong signal that the struggles of the winter had not only been worth it but had bourne fruit for a more plentiful summer season.
Loughborough's Gibson, on 27.67sec, and Newcastle's Cook, on 28.05sec, also raced inside the qualifying time but must wait until June to see whether they will fill the second berth on the Great Britain team after
three more events at which selection is possible.
Mew, who hurt two fingers badly as he ploughed into the wall in the semi-final on Thursday, said he was disappointed not to have broken Gibson's Commonwealth record of 27.51sec.
WOMEN'S 50M BACKSTROKE
Beaten by Portsmouth's Katy Sexton over 100m backstroke in the shock of the trials on Thursday, Sarah Price hit back with a British record of 29.03sec
in the final of the 50m. That was 0.05sec inside her own national standard, 0.08sec ahead of Sexton, and inside the time she needed for a place on the Great Britain team for the world championships.
WOMEN'S 200M FREESTYLE
In yet another race that came down to who had the longest fingernails, just 0.04sec split the medal winners in a race that disappointingly produced no
qualifiers for Barcelona but took to 39 the number of national titles in Karen Pickering's treasure trove.
The Commonwealth champion was led by Ferndown's Karen Legg, who took the silver medal for England behind her in Manchester last year, at the 100 and 150-metre marks. But Pickering, her wealth of experience shining through as she fired off the wall at the final turn, powered her way to a fractional lead with 20 metres as Loughborough's Melanie Marshall sprinted into the
frame: with no quarter given, Pickering got the touch and title in 2:00.39, Marshall second 0.02sec behind and Legg a further 0.2sec behind that.
Pickering had been told by her doctor last weekend to withdraw from the trials because she has a chest infection. However, she refused, given that while selection for Barcelona does not rest solely on performances in Sheffield, competing in Sheffield is a prerequisite for all those who did not get special leave of absence, such as the Britain's US-based women,
Georgina Lee, Margareth Pedder and Joanna Fargus.
Pickering said: "I've had so many clsoe races with Leggy…but I didn't expect that from Mel. She had some great swims on the World Cup tour so I knew would be good in Sheffield." Perhaps not quite so good.
Though the race failed to live up to its billing as a fast battle, it did produce hope of a 4x200m quartet that might be capable of retaining their controversial world crown in Barcelona.