PERTH, Australia, January 18. WITH thousands of dollars in prize money on the line, swimmers from Australia, China and South Africa put up some impressive long course times in the first day of the BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series.
The meet is set up in a special double dual-meet format, allowing only two swimmers from each of the three countries to compete in each event. China and Australia's squads feature many Olympic medalists, while South Africa's federation elected to send mostly rookies to the international scene for racing experience. In addition to per-race cash prizes, the event is offering $15,000 to the top male and female swimmers of the meet, based on FINA points scored in individual events. Australian Olympians Christian Sprenger and Cate Campbell scored highest after day one, putting them in position to take the overall cash prizes.
Sprenger, the Olympic silver medalist in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 58.93, won the event today with a 59.75, good for 942 FINA points. South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh, the reigning Olympic champion, elected not compete to recover from injury. Sprenger's Olympic teammate Brenton Rickard finished second with a 1:01.83, while China's Li Xiayan was third with a 1:02.68.
Campbell's big win came in the 100 freestyle over more accomplished rivals. Campbell, who won medals in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, won today with a 53.51. That time would have placed fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games. Melanie Schlanger, who placed fourth in the 100 free in the Olympics, was second in today's race with a 54.91, while Olympic bronze medalist Tang Yi of China placed third with a 55.22.
Australia started the meet with a win in the mixed 8×50 medley relay, a unique event that featured each country swimming a male and female in each of the four strokes. Australia's team won with a 3:28.85, ahead of China's 3:30.45 and South Africa's 3:35.69.
China struck gold next in the women's 50 backstroke, sweeping the top two spots. Yuanhui Fu won with a 27.86, while world champion Zhao Jing was runner-up with a 27.93. Australia's Emily Seebohm, a former world record holder in the event, was third with a 28.37.
Australia was back on top in the men's 50 back, as Daniel Arnamnart won with a 25.06. China's Cheng Feiyi was second in 25.58 and South Africa's Charl Crous placed third with a 25.66.
James Magnussen, the reigning Olympic silver medalist in the 100 free and the holder of the world textile best time of 47.10, won today with a 48.38. His Olympic teammate James Roberts was second with a 49.62, while China's Lu Zhiwu finished third with a 50.16.
Sarah Katsoulis missed out on a spot on the 2012 Olympic team, but appears to be working her way back to form, winning the 100 breast with a 1:07.33. Leiston Pickett, regarded as the heir apparent to legend Leisel Jones, was second with a 1:08.37. China's Zhao Jin was well back for third with a 1:10.32.
Jiao Liuyang, the Olympic champion in the 200 fly with a 2:04.06, won the event today with a 2:08.54. Liu Zige, the world record holder in the event, finished second with a 2:08.77, while Australia's Samantha Hamill took third in 2:10.73.
In the absence of reigning Olympic champion Chad Le Clos of South Africa, China's Chen Yin, the eighth-place finisher in the 200 fly at the Olympics with a 1:55.18, posted a 1:57.84 to win today. His teammate Weijia Liu was in a tight battle with Australia's Chris Wright for second place, with Weijia able to hold on for silver with a 1:59.17 to Wright's 1:59.21.
Bronte Barratt won the women's 400 free in a time of 4:07.75, faster than the 4:07.99 she swam to place 12th in the event at the Olympics, signaling the potential for good things in tomorrow's 200 free, the event in which she won bronze in London. Second place today went to China's Li Xuanxu, the bronze medalist in the 400 IM at the Olympics, with a 4:10.51, ahead of teammate Yiwen Shao's 4:12.21.
Australia's David McKeon led the opening half of the men's 400 free, and fought off a hard-charging Ryan Napoleon and Yun Hao to win with a 3:49.43. Napoleon was second with a 3:50.23. Yun Hao of China placed third with a 3:50.37.
In one of the most-anticipated matchups of the meet, Olympic gold and silver medalists Ye Shiwen and Alicia Coutts raced in the women's 200 IM, with Ye dominating after the butterfly to win in a blistering 2:09.67 to Coutts' 2:11.92. While controversy emerged at the Olympics over Ye's exceptional freestyle leg in the 400 IM, it should be noted that Coutts outsplit Ye today in the freestyle, 30.55 to 31.00. Emily Seebohm, once a serious international threat in the 200 IM, was third in 2:13.60 after pacing well with Coutts through breaststroke.
Wang Shung gave the Chinese men a win in the men's 200 IM with a 2:00.08. Olympic teammates Jayden Hadler and Daniel Tranter were second and third, respectively, with times of 2:00.83 and 2:03.69.
Australians Meagan Nay and Belinda Hocking were 1-2 in the women's 200 back. Nay won with a time of 2:08.39, while Hocking, the world championship silver medalist, was second with a 2:10.75. China's Bai Anqi was third in 2:13.14.
Xu Jiayu provided an upset of sorts in the men's 200 backstroke, beating out teammate Cheng Feiyi, an Olympic finalist in the event, with a 2:00.07 to Cheng's 2:00.25. Mitch Larkin of Australia used a strong final 50 meters to put him in third place with a 2:01.04, just ahead of teammate Ashley Delaney's 2:01.19.
Lu Ying, the 100 fly Olympic silver medalist, won the 50 butterfly with a 26.20. Coutts came back from the 200 IM to place second again with a 26.65, while South Africa's Trudee Mare was third with a 27.06.
Matt Targett, a former podium finisher in the 50 butterfly at the world championships, won the event today with a 23.57. South Africa's Garth Tune was second in 24.09, while Australia's Chris Wright earned his second podium spot today with a third-place 24.26.
Australia won both 800 freestyle relays to conclude the session. Barratt, perhaps fatigued after her 400 freestyle swim earlier in the session, led off her squad with a 1:59.62, which is close to the squad's average split times as they raced to victory in 7:57.50. China was second with a 7:59.03 and South Africa was third in 8:23.63.
The Aussie men were more dominant in their relay, beating China by seven seconds, 7:16.41 to 7:23.99. Third place went to the South Africans with a 7:33.10.