By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, March 23. LEISEL Jones broke three Australian records in less than thirty minutes on the second night of the Australian Championships to make it clear she will be a force in Barcelona.
The 17-year-old Queenslander broke her own 50 and 100 breaststroke marks in the same race then was back in the pool to lower the national 200 IM record, an event in which, until this week, she was not ranked in the national all-time top ten. Mark my words: this is a leaner, wiser swimmer than the baby-faced youngster who won two Olympic silver medals in 2000.
Women’s 200 IM:
The ‘former’ breaststroke specialist Leisel Jones proved that her decision to include the individual medley in her program was rewarded with an outstanding performance over the four-stroke race. Jones was back in fifth place after the fly leg and only fourth turning into the breaststroke leg where she employed her powerful stroke to catch the field, then pass early leader Alice Mills to turn 0.63 seconds in front into the freestyle leg.
Jones held off a concerted effort by strong freestyler Mills, to touch in 2:14.21, a new Australian record, lowering Elli Overton’s ’99 Pan Pac mark by 0.30 seconds. Her effort was all the more remarkable in that it came less than half-an-hour after her record-breaking breaststroke semi-final and in that her coach Ken Wood had originally planned that the 400 IM would fit her program better. Jones had only decided to swim in the 200 IM heats because “she had nothing to do yesterday.”
On backing up, Jones said: “I didn’t find it hard at all, I got a good swim down and did a fair bit of sprint, so that was pretty good. I think it made me more relaxed as it took the focus off my breaststroke.”
Sixteen-year-old Mills touched second in 2:14.84, making her the third fastest Australian performer and taking almost two seconds off her previous best. Sydney based 17-year-old Jessica Abbott took the bronze in 2:16.74. Titleholder Jenny Reilly finished a disappointing fifth.
Women’s 100 butterfly:
World champion Petria Thomas made it her fourth consecutive national title in the 100 fly with a fast 58.57. Thomas was second (27.65) at the turn behind 18-year-old Queenslander Libby Lenton (27.41) but the experienced campaigner came home over the top of her much younger rivals to touch the pads in fast 58.57.
Jessica Schipper the 163cm, 16-year-old, with the nickname ‘sparrow,’ which clearly relates to her size, came home just 0.06 seconds in front of Lenton both girls under the minute setting PR’s of 59.73 and 59.79. Both teenagers are likely to go to Barcelona, as Petria Thomas will undergo shoulder surgery in early April and won’t be swimming at the world champs
Thomas said after the race, “it was a hard decision but my main goal is the Olympics and I want to give myself as much time to recover as possible and get back to my best.”
Men’s 50 butterfly:
World record-holder Geoff Huegill had something to prove tonight after suffering a rare defeat at the hands of backstroke specialist Matt Welsh in the semis. Welsh was away fastest of the field and led Huegill until the last few meters of the race before the world record-holder called on all his experience to touch out Welsh in a fast 23.77. For Huegill it was his seventh consecutive national title in this event.
Welsh swam another excellent sub-24 second race, touching in 23.93 (he clocked 23.88 in the semis) with the bronze going to freestyle sprint champ Brett Hawke in a PR 24.15.
Men’s 100 breaststroke:
Regan Harrison, the 24-year-old AIS-based Queenslander, showed an excellent return to form after a bad year in 2002 punctuated with injury and illness with a PR 1:02.08 to touch out teenager Brenton Rickard (PR 1:02.33) and a disappointing Pan Pac bronze medalist Jim Piper (1:02.60). Harrison was part of the Aussie medley relay team that picked up Olympic silver in Sydney and gold at the world champs in 2001 but has in the past been considered better over 200-meters, suggesting he will provide a strong challenge for title-holder Piper later in the week.
Women’s 100 breaststroke:
Leisel Jones broke her own national record (1:07.31) with a sensational semi-final swim clocking 1:07.04, the eighth fastest all-time over the two-laps. Only world record-holder South African Penny Heyns (WR 1:06.52) and China’s Xuejuan Luo have been faster. In doing so, the 17-year-old Sydney Olympic silver medalist also lowered on her own national best for the 50-meters by 0.12 seconds when she turned in 31.54, a time that places her 12th all-time performer globally. Olympic teammate and finalist in this event, Tarnee White (1:09.80) qualified second fastest, from Sarah Kasoulis (1:09.84) and Brooke Hanson (1:1047).
After the semi-final Jones said of her performance, “I’m pretty happy with my breaststroke. It felt really relaxed and even a bit ordinary, so it seems like it came naturally.”
And of the final: “I’m not predicting anything for the final. I think last time I went slower than I expected to go, so I’ll just stay as relaxed as I was tonight and it should be fun.”
Men’s 200 freestyle:
World record-holder Ian Thorpe cruised into the final in a fast 1:47.89 ahead of archrival Grant Hackett (1:48.73). Expect the Thorpedo to give his world record of 1:44.06 a nudge in a fast race tomorrow night. Pac Pac gold medalist Jason Cram, who trains with Thorpe, clocked a PR 1:49.87 to qualify third fastest ahead of bronze medalist in the 400 free, Craig Stevens (1:50.11).
Men’s 100 backstroke:
Matt Welsh will be shooting for his 4th consecutive title when he qualified fastest in 55.40 ahead of comebacker Josh Watson (56.15), Andrew Burns (56.28) and Ethan Rolff (56.34).
Women’s 100 backstroke:
South Australian 18-year-old Melissa Morgan swam a PR 1:02.76 to be fastest qualifier ahead of the experienced Giaan Rooney (1:03.39) and Frances Adcock (1:03.39). Rooney won this title in 1999 and will be the favourite in the absence of recently retired national record-holder Dyana Calub.