By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, May 20 – In front of a wildly cheering crowd of over 12,500, Kieren Perkins succeeded in qualifying to attempt his third consecutive 1500m Olympic gold. However, it was Grant Hackett who won the race in 14.56.35, the fastest time in the world this year, but far off his best. Perkins was just over the fifteen-minute mark, in 15:01.14, his best time since Atlanta, and the second fastest in the world this year.
The race started as expected, with Hackett going out fast to lead from the first turn. By the 200m mark, the two fastest swimmers in history over the distance were more than four seconds ahead of the rest of the field. At the 400m, Hackett had moved to just over two seconds ahead of his older rival. Their place on the team was assured by the halfway mark, with Craig Stevens dropping back to more than ten seconds behind Perkins in third place.
Hackett turned at the 800m in 7:54.00, with Perkins a body length behind, in 7:56.28. It became a matter of whether Perkins could stay with Hackett and he did a good job, eventually finishing only 4.39 seconds behind the winner. Stevens was third in 15:22.86.
In the absence of the fastest qualifier, Susie O’Neill, Sarah Ryan, won the 50m freestyle final in 25.90, an improvement of 0.05 of a second on her personal best set in the semi-final. The minor medals went to Jordana Webb (26.17) and Jodie Henry (26.24).
Matt Welsh, took his third backstroke title of the meet when he won the 50m final in 25.68. His time broke his Commonwealth and Australian record set in the semi-finals by 0.04 seconds. Robert Wyllie (26.13) and Josh Watson (26.28) took out the minor places.
Brooke Hanson won her first Australian title, when she swam a personal best 32.29, to win the 50m breaststroke from Helen Denman (32.67) and Olympic team qualifier for the 100m distance, Tarnee White (32.71).
A swim-off was required after two competitors in the women’s 100m backstroke tied for second place earlier in the week. Giaan Rooney turned first, and held of a determined Clementine Stoney in the final ten meters, to touch in 1:02.58 – the same time both swimmers had produced in their tie. Stoney finished in 1:02.81.
Seven triple Olympians and thirteen dual Olympians were named to the 44-member Australian Olympic team for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Head Coach Don Talbot said he felt it was potentially the best team to represent Australia at an Olympics.
A record total of just over 100,000 people attended the eight days of competition at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre.