by Ian Hanson
MELBOURNE, Australia. October 14. AUSTRALIAs Grant Hackett today swam within 1.51 seconds of a world record when he clocked 7 minutes 36.41 seconds to win the 800 meter freestyle on Day Three of the Telstra Australian Short Course Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
Hackett, 20, clocked the second fastest time in history, narrowly missing Kieren Perkins' world short course record of 7:34.90, set in Sydney in 1993.
The newly crowned Olympic 1500 meter freetyle champion clocked the time in an unusual time frame, with all the 800m heats scheduled in the morning on Day Three of the condensed four-day program.
"It's great to swim the second fastest time ever but why couldn't it have been just that much faster? " said Hackett, who will fly home on Sunday to start the Indycar race on the Gold Coast.
"I suppose for a morning swim it wasn't too bad. I just wish I was in a position to swim at night, but I guess I'll get other opportunities."
It brought to a close a magic month for Hackett, who rode the storm of his indifferent start to the Olympics, to win the 1500m freestyle gold medal over defending champion Perkins before heading to Melbourne for personal best swims in the 200 and 800 meter free events at the short course Nationals.
Hackett will have a well earned break before returning to training next month to start his preparation for next year's World Championships in Fukuoka, where he will target both the 800 meters (which will be contested for the first time at the World Champs) and the defense of the 1500 meter crown he won in Perth in 1998.
There was cause for celebration in Queeensland's Commercial club with the record breaking swims of one of the world's most traveled swimmers, Brisbane based sprinter Michelle Engelsman – a Brazilian born Australian who equaled the national 50m freestyle record in the semi-finals and then broke it in the final.
Engelsman, 20, clocked 25.42 seconds to equal Anna Windsor's 1993 Australian record before clocking 25.36 to win the final.
She later revealed an amazing tale of travel and determination which she hopes will see her on the Australian Olympic team in Athens in 2004.
Born in Brazil, the daughter of an international corporate busisnessman has since lived in Holland, Switzerland, England, the USA and the past 18 months in Brisbane, where she has trained under Olympic coach Scott Volkers.
But in October 1998 a degenerative disk problem forced her into hospital for lower back fusion and three months in a back brace.
The traveling tales are about to continue and Michelle will now spend the next three months with Rohan Taylor at Carey Aquatic in Melbourne before deciding on which US university to attend for the next two years while she completes her degreee in chemistry and anthropology after spending two years at Kenyan College.
"It's between Cal-Berkley, Arizona, Alabama or Northwestern (Chicago) and I have to decide by November 1," said Engelsman.
"At this stage I will return to Australia in March for the World Championship Trials and my long term goal is to swim for Australia at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
"I set myself for this year's Olympic Trials and finished fifth in the 50m freestyle but swimming this fast has been a real bonus for me.
"I have only been swimming seriously for the past 18 months so this really is the start of my career."
In other events tonight, Brisbane butterflyer Greg Shaw broke through for his first national title, to win the 200 meter butterfly over 1996 Olympic bronze medalist Scott Goodman and 2000 Olympian Heath Ramsay in a time of 1:55.87; veteran Phil Rogers chalked up his 10th Australian title in the 100 meter breaststroke.
Meanwhile Australia's newest world record holder Matt Welsh again looked impressive in the semi-finals of the 100m backstroke, clocking 51.94, only just outside his own Australian record.
He will swim the final when the Telstra Australian Short Course Championships conclude at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre on Sunday night.