By Stephen J. Thomas
MELBOURNE, December 1. IN a fitting result for two great Aussie swimmers, Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe were tonight jointly presented with the title of 2003 Telstra Swimmer of the Year at a glittering awards dinner at the Melbourne Grand Hyatt in the company of the "Who’s Who in Australian Swimming," which included visiting American stars Michael Phelps and Amanda Beard.
It was a record fifth time in a row for "The Thorpedo" and a highly deserved first time for distance king Grant Hackett. The two swimmers dominated the freestyle events at the world champs in Barcelona – Thorpe took the 200/400 double and bronze in the 100 free while Hackett took the 800/1500 double, silver in the 400 and bronze in the 200 free. Both were part of the winning Aussie 800 freestyle relay and, of course, Thorpe successfully branched out to take silver behind world record-holder Michael Phelps in the 200 IM. In addition, both swimmers won their third consecutive world title – Hackett in the 1500 free and Thorpe the 400 free.
Ever since Thorpe as a rookie 15-year-old stormed home over the top of the favorite, Hackett, in the final lap of the 400 freestyle at the 1998 World Champs in Perth, Hackett has found himself shaded by his brilliant team-mate over the 200/400/800 distances. It was with some amusement last night during their press conference when Hackett quipped, "if you can’t beat him, join him." Hackett remains undefeated over 1500 for the past seven years.
Among the other prestigious awards on the night:
Thorpe also received the male Individual Medley Swimmer of the Year, Middle Distance Freestyle and the Sprint Swimmer of the Year and Hackett received the male Distance Swimmer
Olympic and World Championship relay gold medalist Todd Pearson won the swimmers' Swimmer Of the Year Award – voted by his fellow team members.
Popular Melbourne coach Ian Pope was awarded the Coach of the Year.
Multi world record holder Chantel Wolfenden was named the Australian Swimmer of Year with a Disability and Swimmer With a Disability Coach of the Year went to Paul Simms.
Queensland’s sprint star Libby Lenton was named the female Short Course Swimmer of the Year and the Australian Sports Commission Discovery of the Year, while the male award went to World Champs 800 free relay gold medalist Nicholas Sprenger.
World champions Phil Rogers and Dyana Calub received Services to Australian Swimming awards following their retirements this year.
Male and female Open Water Swimmers of the Year were Mark Saliba and Trudee Hutchinson and the Open Water Coach of the Year went to Alan Thompson
Age Group Coach of the Year went to Bernie Mulroy while the male and female Youth Swimmer of the Year were Nic Donald and Stephanie Williams.