By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, November 27. EIGHTEEN-year-old swimming sensation Michael Phelps made an immediate impact at the Sydney Aquatic Centre tonight taking the sprint butterfly and broken 400 freestyle events in convincing fashion to pick up just over US$7,000.
Phelps had not raced Down Under since he finished fifth at this pool in the final of the 200 fly at the Sydney Olympics just over three years ago.
It was the beginning of a busy week for the triple world champion, which will see him swim six events in three days at the World Cup event in Melbourne this weekend.
In his first win, a butterfly elimination event, Phelps disposed of Geoff Huegill, the former 50m world-record-holder and then Adam Pine in the final.
Later in the program he lined up against distance king Grant Hackett in a broken 400 freestyle race that saw competitors swim a 200/100/50×2 set of freestyle with a two-minute rest between each leg. Hackett just touched out Phelps in the 200 free, gaining a measure of revenge for being beaten to the wall in the first leg of the 800 freestyle relay in Barcelona but it was Phelps who took over points with Hackett noticeably tiring in the last sprint to end up third overall behind 18-year-old world champs relay gold medalist Nick Sprenger.
Hackett had to be assisted off the pool deck after having gone into the race suffering from a virus then experiencing a minor asthma attack. He was given oxygen by the pool and underwent a full medical examination by the Australian team doctor. The world record-holder and three-time world champion over 1500 freestyle is now in considerable doubt for the World Cup that starts Friday morning, when a final decision will be made.
Ian Thorpe competed in the freestyle sprint event despite having only arrived back in the country in the morning, after a 22-hour flight from Arizona where he has been in altitude camp for three weeks. The Thorpedo showed his class by burning off a field of sprinters, including Brett Hawke, Ashley Callus and Todd Pearson, eventually powering away from American World Championships relay gold medalist Jason Lezak in the final.
Dual Olympian Petria Thomas, 28, showed she is well on the road to recovering from her third shoulder reconstruction in seven years when she took out the broken 400 freestyle event from Elka Graham and American Lindsay Benko, then cleaned up a field that included Swede Anna-Karin Kammerling in the sprint fly event.
All winners other that Phelps were Aussies including Jenny Reilly and Justin Norris in the 200IM, Giann Rooney and Matt Welsh in the backstroke, Leisel Jones and Brenton Rickard in the breaststroke. World Championships bronze medalist Libby Lenton took the women’s sprint freestyle.