By Ian Hanson
BRISBANE, QLD, Australia, March 18. AUSTRALIAN phenom Ian Thorpe tonight smashed the Australian all-comers record and narrowly missed his own world record in a stunning opening swim in the 400m freestyle on the first night of finals at the Australian National Swimming Championships in Brisbane.
The meet is also serving as the Selection Trials for the 2002 Commonwealth Games and the Pan-Pacific Championships.
Thorpe clocked 3:40.54 to finish 0.37 outside his world mark, set at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka, and took 0.05 off his own Australian all-comers record, the world record time he established to win gold on the opening night of the 2000 Olympic Games.
Thorpe defeated world ranked number two Grant Hackett (3:45.39) with a typically awesome performance, which saw him hold Hackett at arm's length before surging away at the 250m mark with the 19-year-old under world record pace at the 300m mark.
Thorpe admitted after the race: "That's the hardest 400m I have swum in two years. I really put a lot into it and I walked away happy with the result. My race plan was to swim the first 150m moderately and then the next 50 to 100m hard and then hold on. I intended to negative split tonight because that's how I think I can get the best out of myself.
Asked about his last out of competition drug test, he said: "I had a drug test seven days ago and have had four in the last three weeks. Tonight was the first time I can remember that I didn't have to do a test in competition. It has been a while but it is good. You can spend hours here trying to pass a sample but thank goodness I can go home early tonight.
Thorpe and Hackett will be back in the water tomorrow morning (Tuesday) for the heats of the 200m freestyle with the final to be swum tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, Manly's Elka Graham captured her second consecutive Australian 200m freestyle title after holding off the late surge of triple World Champion Petria Thomas to win in a time of 1:59.77.
Remarkably, the 20-year-old stopped the clock at an identical time as she swum to win the title last year and she was slightly disappointed despite being the first swimmer to make the team.
"To be honest, no," was her response when asked if she was happy with the time. "All the girls (200m finalists) are quite shocked that it was so slow. It's the exact same time I swam last year so a year later I'm still swimming the same times.
"Having the first event of the meet and being the first to qualify is special. Making the team was my first priority so I can now relax and just concentrate on the rest of the meet now."
Thomas won silver in a time of 2:00.27 and World 200m champion Giaan Rooney (2:00.43) qualified for an individual swim in the 200m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games, finishing third after a disrupted preparation through injury.
Former World Championship and Commonwealth Games medalist Rebecca Creedy (2:01.42) also made a tremendous comeback to finish 4th and qualify for a relay swim in Manchester and the Pan Pacific Championships in Yokahama.
Newcastle's Olympic and World Championship bronze medalist Justin Norris also showed no signs of a post World Championships hangover with a solid victory in the 200m butterfly.
Norris, who clocked 1:57.30 had to fight all the way to fight off tenacious Brisbane 20-year-old Heath Ramsay (1:57.53), who came agonisingly close to claiming his second Australian title after storming to victory at the 2000 Olympic Trials.
Afterwards Norris was at his charismatic best declaring the win as "pretty cool" but he admitted he had to dig deep to hold off Ramsay.
"I knew Heath was coming home a little too fast for my liking but it is good to have him back swimming fast again after the (2000) Olympic Games," Norris said.
"I just wanted to work the second and third 50s a bit stronger and it paid off. I have been adding running into my training."
Australian swim team regular Jennifer Reilly added the 200m Australian title to her three 400m championships in beating rising New South Wales star Jessica Abbott.
Reilly won the event in 2:15.29 but it was the performance of two promising teenagers in Abbott (2:16.96) and Alice Mills (2:18.38), who finished third, that had the Australian swimming fraternity talking.
Abbott, who is coached by Alan Thompson, is almost certain to make her international swimming debut at the Commonwealth Games while Mills will have to wait until the team is named after the last night of the meet to see if she has a seat on the plane to Manchester.
In semi final action Matt Welsh qualified fastest for the men's 50m backstroke in a time of 26.08 with Port Macquarie's Ethan Rolfe, clocking a personal best time of 26.27, and Leigh McBean (26.64) certain to push him all the way in tomorrow night's final.
After claiming silver in the 200m freestyle event, Petria Thomas set the quickest time in the semi finals of the 50m butterfly (27.43) with Queenslander Nicole Irving clocking a personal best time of 27.52 to make her the 4th fastest Australian of all time.
Leisel Jones showed she is back to form, winning her semifinal in the 50m breaststroke in a personal best time of 31.99 to shade Nunawading's Brooke Hanson (32.35) and Redcliffe teammate Tarnee White 32.43 as the fastest qualifier for the final.
In tonight's multi disability events, Alicia Aberley took out the women's Multi/Disability (M/D) 100m breaststroke in a time of 1:22.99 with Victoria's Sarah Bowen winning silver and Paralympian gold medallist Siobahn Paton finishing with the bronze medal.
Victoria's Daniel Bell was victorious in the M/D 100m breaststroke, clocking 1:16.39 to edge out Rick Pendleton from New South Wales and Queensland's James Sewell.
In the M/D men?s 50m freestyle Wellington's Ben Austin defended his Australian title by clocking 28.05 with from Victoria's Alex Harris and Scott Prosser from Victoria while Denmark's Andersen Lund picked up a visitors silver medal.
Siobahn Paton added a gold medal to her bronze won earlier in the night with victory in the women's M/D 50m freestyle in a time of 29.90 Katrina Lewis finishing second and New South Wales's Alicia Aberley claiming the bronze