By Ian Hanson
MELBOURNE, October 12. AUSTRALIAN Olympic champion, Grant Hackett, showed no ill-effects from post Olympic celebrations and just 1,800 meters of training in two weeks to win the 200 meter freestyle final on the opening night of the Telstra Australian Short Course Championships at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.
The Olympic 1500 metres champion clocked a personal best time of 1 minute 44.57 – the third fastest all-time Australian and eighth fastest all-time in the world to beat Miami training partner and Olympic team mate Daniel Kowalski (1:47.22) and Antony Matkovich (1:47.27), who also swam personal best times.
Hackett struggled to recapture his best form in the 200 and 400 metres freestyle at the Olympics before winning his gold medal and defeating Kieren Perkins in the 1500 meter freestyle on the final night of the Games on September 23.
Ever since, Hackett has been in "party mode" and only started swimming when he arrived in Melbourne three days ago.
"I am probably the most surprised person at the pool," said Hackett, who admitted he expected "to almost drown" when he started to race.
"That was pretty good wasn't it?" asked Hackett, who will now line up with Kowalski and his Miami club in the 4×200 meter freestyle relay tomorrow night and the 800 meter freestyle with Kowalski on Saturday morning.
In another outstanding swim, triple Olympic medalist Matt Welsh smashed his own Commonwealth record in the 50 meter backstroke, becoming only the second person in the world to clock under 24 seconds, with his winning time of 23.87 – 0.45 outside Neil Walker's world record.
Welsh will now line up in the 200 backstroke on Day Two before taking on the 100m on Saturday and Sunday.
"Unlike the heat and semi-final, I really nailed the turn in the final and that made the difference," said Welsh, who admitted he thought he would never get near Walker's time.
"When Neil went his world record, I thought, well that's it, I'll never swim that fast…but I've surprised myself and I'm pleased I set myself for this meet.
"I'm now looking to the 200m on Friday, that's my main aim for this meet."
The other eye-catching performances on the first night came from Geoff Huegill in the semi-finals of the 100m butterfly; Lori Munz in the semi-finals of the 100m freestyle and Brooke Hanson in the final of the 50m breaststroke.
Huegill made amends for his "sluggish" heat swim in the 100 meter butterfly -which left him 17th – and out of the semi-finals with a stunning semi-final win – only possible after two swimmers withdrew – allowing the Olympic bronze medalist a last minute place in the first semi-final.
The 20-year-old from Redcliffe, suffering the ill-effects of a cold, livened himself up after a chat with coach Ken Wood and in the absence of Michael Klim (who has withdrawn from the meet with a back injury) should be hard to beat in the final.
Munz, one of eight emerging athletes chosen to carry the Olympic flag at the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, is the fastest qualifier for the final of the 100m freestyle, with a time of 54.65 – and looked close to her best after the shocking car accident eight weeks before the Games robbed her of a place on the team.
Hanson equalled Rebecca Brown's Victorian record with a time of 31.41 to win the 50 meter breaststroke ahead of Olympic silver medalist Leisel jones and Kelly Denner – the 12th fastest time in history.
The men's 400 meter individual medley saw Jim Piper (Campbelltown, NSW) break through for his first open championship gold medal in a time of 4:13.22 ahead of Grant McGregor (4:13.53) and Trent Steed (4:16.78). It makes Piper the fourth fastest swimmer in Australian history behind world record holder Matt Dunn, McGregor and Steed.