By Craig Lord
MANCHESTER, April 14. SARAH Price stole the show at the British national championships with a national record of 2:10.78 in the 200m backstroke that defeated the bronze medal winner at the World Championships and the reigning Commonwealth champion.
At the British championships twelve months ago, Price, of Barnet Copthall in London, was locked out of selection in the 200m for the World Championships in Japan by domestic rivals Joanna Fargus and Katy Sexton.
Now the tables were turned today in the Manchester pool, to which Price will return in July as favourite to take the Commonwealth title from Sexton.
Price reached the first turn inside world record pace, at 30.30 seconds, leaving Fargus, the bronze medal winner in Japan, reeling 1.05sec behind. By the half-way stage she had faded from Egerszegi's killer pace but was still 1.37 seconds inside the Commonwealth record pace. Things still looked great at 150 metres as Price swam 1.09 seconds inside the pace that took
Australian Nicole Stevenson to the Commonwealth record of 2:10.20 and the Olympic bronze medal in 1992. That race was the only one in Olympic and world championship history in which Price, who paid for her early speed down the last length, would not have won a medal with her British record time of 2:10.78.
Rhys Gormley, her coach, was conscious of the pain she suffered down the last length. So Price is now talking with him about plans to avoid the same in the summer. A smiling Price, who last year set the world short-course record over 200m, said: "I wanted to go under 2:10. He wants to send me on the training camp with the distance swimmers – we're in discussions."
Fargus followed her home in 2:12.83, with Sexton, at 2:13.73, good enough to allow her to defend her title for England in the summer. In a ridiculous quirk of the race schedule, Price was back an hour later to retain the 50m backstroke title in 29.35 seconds, just 0.06sec shy of her own national record.
Price, 22, set a world short-course record of 2:04.44 in Perth, Australia, last August to become the first British woman in 41 years to set an individual world mark. The week before that she had competed in the
World Long Course Championships in Japan over 100m but not 200m, in which Fargus and Sexton raced for Britain.
Price was one of four British swimmers now at the top of the rankings after British, Australian and Canadian trials for the Commonwealth Games.
The rivalry of James Gibson and Darren Mew is helping roll back the good times in British breaststroke, which can boast a list of impressive talent from Wilkie to Moorhouse and Gillingham.
On Saturday, Gibson, of Loughborough University, clocked a European and Commonwealth record of 27.51sec in his semifinal of the 50m breaststroke. Tonight, Mew, of University of Bath, took revenge on Gibson –
who beat him and took the British record from him in the 100m on Friday – to take the sprint crown from him 27.64 to 27.68.
Mew, 22, said: "I was just trying to get revenge for the 100 metres – I'm happy to get in there and win something." Of his rivalry with Gibson he said:
"Having to stand up head to head all the time is not easy. We're two world-class swimmers and the pressure is on."
Gibson, also 22, said: "I've always been a swimmer and always wanted to get to highest level. So I wasn't very happy with that tonight. I was hoping for a bit more. I swam the final of the 100(m) faster than the semi, but I needed to get myself up again for the 50 final and it didn't quite happen.
Last July in Fukuoka, Gibson finished just outside the medals at the World Long Course Championships – an event that is second only to the Olympic Games in importance in the sport – but was disqualified for a false start.
Alison Sheppard, who is coached by her husband Gary van der Meulen in Vancouver, capitalised on the Commonwealth record of 24.96 seconds she established over 50m freestyle on Saturday with victory in the final in 25.10 last night to set herself up as clear favourite to become the first Scot to win a Commonwealth title since David Wilkie in 1974. Behind her was Rosalind Brett, the fastest Englishwoman, on 25.73, with Melanie Marshall, winner of the 100m, third on 25.91.
Sheppard said: "I'm not too disappointed. I did what I wanted last night and tonight was all about winning." Asked how she felt about racing in the summer at the only event in which Scottish swimmers race for Scotland and not Britain, she said: "I'm really excited about it. I think the 50 metres is pretty safe for us."
Sheppard returned home from the World Short Course Championships in Moscow last week with a silver medal, in the 50m freestyle, a bronze medal, in the 100m medley, and seven national records to her immense credit. Her work with Van der Meulen has seen her gradually work her way from a talent who promised more than she delivered to a world-class athlete who delivers every time she races and has earned plaudits from Bill Sweetenham, the Australian at the helm of British swimming, for being "the model professional".
Rebecca Cooke, coached by Australian Stephen Hill, found herself at the helm of the Commonwealth rankings so far this year with a 4:13.27 victory in the 400m freestyle, while Manchester-born James Hickman, of the City of Leeds club, retained his national 100m butterfly crown in 53.41 ahead of Todd Cooper, of Stirling, who in 54.09 broke the 14-year-old Scottish record that belonged to Neil Cochran in 54.30.
Cochran, who was coached by Wally Lord in Aberdeen, was the bronze medal winner in the 200m medley at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
The 200m medley title went to Robin Francis, of University of Bath, in 2:03.05, while Scotland celebrated victories for Kirtsy Balfour in the 100m breaststroke, in 1:10.24, and Gregor Tait, in the 100m
backstroke, in 55.98.
The semifinal of the 50m freestyle saw Mark Foster ease off in the last 10 metres to clock 23.07, only to see Mattew Kidd go a best time of 22.78 in the second semifinal. Foster, who suffers from a lack of domestic opposition, welcomed Kidd's advance.