BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA, January 20. A new year and a new club and a new coach seem to have made "Lethal" Leisel Jones a new woman.
The 19-year-old Aussie Olympic star, who set a world record in the 200 meter breaststroke (2:22.96) at the Telstra Grand Prix here last July, only to see it vanish beneath the waves at the US Olympic Trials two days later when America's Amanda Beard took the record back with a 2:22.44, showed her switch to the Commercial Club hasn't slowed her in the least during the Queensland Open-Age Group Championships here at the Chandler Aquatic Center Jan. 9-14.
Jones joined the Commercial club after Athens and the switch seems to have paid major dividends already. She won the 50-100-200 breast races going away in world-class and world-leading times of 31.96, 1:07.07 and 2:24.13. Jones' swims will likely rank her No. 1 until at least the U.S. World Championship Trials in Indianapolis starting April 1, when Beard will try to make her third World team.
Jones holds the world record in the 100 (1:06.37) from the semis of the last World Championships, but finished a well-beaten third in the finals behind China's Luo Xuejuan — who also won at Athens — and Beard. At Athens she was also bronze medalist in the 100 behind Luo and teammate Brooke Hanson.
In the 200, Jones' old world record of 2:22.96 still ranks her second on the all-time world performers-performances lists. In Athens, she was out in a blazing 1:08.8, by far the fastest split of all-time in a major competition, but the old piano fell on her coming home and she finished runner-up in 2:23.60.
Her times here, while not prs, are still the fastest ever by anyone so early in the year and rank very high on the all-time performances lists. Her 100 is 16th-best and her 200 equals 15th-fastest. Her 50 is not in the Top 25 but then she's never been a super 50 breast swimmer either. Her pr (31.13) is 21st-fastest performance and fifth on the performers list, a couple of tenths behind Aussie record-holder Brooake Hanson's 30.91. The record is 30.57 by Great Britain's and now New Zealand's Zoe Baker. (She switched nationaltities last last year after having trained in New Zealand for several years now.)
Jones has yet to win that elusive major international gold she's been after since first making a name for herself at the 2000 Olympic Trials. However, if she can hold form between now and mid-July when the World Championships are scheduled to begin at some yet-to-be decided city, she could have her gold and her records too.
Commercial teammate Lisbeth Lenton, also 19, was impressive in the sprints, winning the 50 (25.16) and 100 frees (54.71) along with a No. 1 2:01.76 in the 200.
Lenton became the first Aussie woman since Dawn Fraser, over 40 years ago, to break the world record in the 100 free when she splashed to a 53.66 at the Olympic Trials last March at the Sydney Aquatic Centre, home pool for the 2000 Games. However, Lenton was off-form in Athens and failed to medal in either the 50 or 100 frees. The century winner, of course, was Lenton's teammate, Jodie Henry, who clocked 53.82 in the finals after breaking the world record in the semis with her 53.52 — still the global standard.
Lenton's 24.70 50 from the Trials is the Aussie record and a mere .02 off the Commonwealth standard of 24.68 by Scotland's veteran 33-year-old Alison Sheppard. She swam her record en route to the gold at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester three years ago.
Former Kenyon NCAA Division III champ Michele Engelsman, who along with Lenton swam the 50 in Athens and thus became the first Kenyon woman swimmer ever to make an Olympic final, swam 25.46 for runner-up in the one-lapper. New Zealand's Nichole Chellingworth's pr of 25.95 was good for third.
Jessica Schippers won the flys in good early-season clockings of 59.30 and 2:13.48, with Lenton runner-up in the 100 (1:00.83).
The men's performances weren't quite on a par with the women's but Grant Hackett put in an appearance in the prelims of the 400 free, clocking the fastest swim of the meet, a get-in-the-water-and-go 3:50.69. He scratched finals but undoubtedly won't do that at the Aussie World Trials in seven weeks.
The 400 winner was Nicholas Sprenger (3:54.73), who also won the 200 in a quick 1:49.87. Jeff English won the 50 free (23.07) and Andrew Mewing the 100 (50.66).
Norway's Alexander Dale Oen, who went a pr/NR 1:02.35 at the European Championships in Madrid last May, won the 100 breast in 1:03.35 and Japan's Yuki Honda won the 200 breast in a pr 2:17.10.
Leith Brodie raced to first in the 200 IM in 2:03.69, a tenth off his career-best.