By Kurt Hanson
SYDNEY, Australia. A record crowd of over 6000 people packed the Sydney Aquatic Centre last Friday night for the sixth annual Qantas Skins swim meet – and it produced the "super-skin" from a "super-sub."
In a meet packed with Australian Swimming's finest athletes, it was little-known Toongabbie 19-year-old, Andrew Burns, who stole the show from two of the world's highest profile swimmers.
A reserve for the backstroke event two weeks ago, Burns received a late call up when Australian champion Ray Hass withdrew from the field after smashing his elbow in Monte Carlo.
In a shock upset and in an unlikely twist, two of the sports biggest names Ian Thorpe and Matt Welsh were eliminated after dead-heating for third in the second round of the exciting Skins knockout format – which sees the last place swimmer or swimmers eliminated.
Welsh, after touching the wall was still in shock:
"Ian turned to me and asked "what does that mean" I just told him, "I think we're both out"."
They sure were. The two remaining competitors – rookies Burns and Kingscliff Commonwealth Games rookie Ethan Rolff then had to swim leisurely to the other end of the pool for an unlikely showdown in the final.
Over the last 50m head-to-head shoot-out, the two virtual unknowns battled it out with Burns scoring a memorable victory, two prized scalps and his richest pay day – $5000.
"I went into the meet to try and make it past the first round and win $700, but to end up winning $5000. I'm stoked," Burns said.
For the second placegetter, Ethan Rolff, it was also a good night at the office, as he picked up $3000 for his performance.
But Thorpe returned to the scene of so many of his greatest triumphs to defeat great rival Grant Hackett in a thrilling 3x100m freestyle event.
With the 6042 fans standing and cheering, Hackett and Thorpe eye-balled each other throughout the three races but with a late burst, Thorpe continued Hackett's Groundhog Day to take the lion's share of the cash.
The 19-year-old clocked 50.97 and 51.92, to be well under world record pace for the 200m, albeit split by a one minute break, before flying home in 51.98 to send out an ominous warning with the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships fast approaching.
In other events there was a major upset in the first event with defending Skins champion, Rebecca Creedy, becoming the first competitor knocked out in the women's 50m freestyle eliminator. The Commonwealth Games swim team's youngest competitor, Alice Mills was next to exit the pool with her Chandler teammate and Pan Pacific Championships team member, Cassie Hunt, taking the third placing after being knocked out in the next round. The final between Sarah Ryan and Jodie Henry saw Australia's newest 50m Australian record holder swim away from Ryan, who is seven years her senior, to register her first-ever victory over her. It rounds out a strong month for the Shannon Rollason-coached Henry who will now add her maiden Qantas Skins victory to a strong year that has included selection to her first ever Commonwealth Games team and her Australian record on the recent European Mare Nostrum Tour.
"It's been a good month long and hard but it's been a great experience I am really happy with. I wasn't feeling the best before, but I am happy," Henry said.
2000 Olympian Heath Ramsay was the first butterflier eliminated in the men's butterfly and he was soon to be followed by Australian age-group star, Tim Dodd, who had a tough draw against three of Australia's strongest competitors. The world short course silver medallist, Adam Pine was next to go after being tipped out by a new looked Scott Miller. Miller battled the final showdown against the world champion and world record-holder in the event, Geoff Huegill. The Brisbane based Huegill was far superior over the final 50 metres to defend his Qantas Skins title. But it was the look of Miller that surprised everyone, taking out the first two races in the event with the first one clocked in 24.50, ranking him as the 15th fastest time in the world this year. His new coach, Miami's Denis Cotterell was also happy, jumping around the pool deck in excitement over the now Gold Coast-based 27-year-old's solid comeback prospects.
Newcastle's medley swimmer, Justin Norris, took a few tips from his fellow Novocastrian Andrew Johns yesterday at the NSW State of Origin training that paid off tonight with the 21-year-old taking victory in the 200m mystery medley. Norris clocked a quality 2:02.40, breaking away in the final lap of butterfly to take the win ahead of fellow Commonwealth Games team mate, Queenslander, Robert van der Zant. New Zealand's defending champion, Dean Kent was third in 2:05.73.
Commonwealth Games rookie breaststroker, Kelli Waite, exited early after a quick start to the women's 50m breaststroke. The late call up for Rebekah Rychvalsky saw her put in a tough performance but she exited next after previously taking the place of Victorian Sarah Kasoulis, who was sick. Olympian and Commonwealth Games team member, Tarnee White, took the bronze in the event after being knocked out in the next round. The final between Leisel Jones and Brooke Hanson was a re-match of last year's showdown, with Jones again triumphing over the final 25m. The Queensland teenager coached by Ken Wood at Redcliffe Leagues Lawnton club looked strong throughout, taking the final in 32.28 while Hanson took the silver in 33.38.
2002 Commonwealth and Pan Pacific Games team member, Kelly Tucker was first to go in the women's backstroke eliminator. South Australian, Melissa Morgan was next to depart after being the last to touch the wall the Australian champion, Dyana Calub was a surprise exit next to take bronze with the final showdown between Giaan Rooney and Clementine Stoney. The current Commonwealth champion in the 100 metre backstroke, Giaan Rooney was too strong for the 200 metre backstroke Australian champion, Clementine Stoney, with the Miami club 200 metre freestyle world champion returning to her glory days in the backstroke, clocking the winning time in 30.39. Stoney was the runner up in 30.66.
Lara Davenport was first to leave the pool in the women's butterfly eliminator. The Chandler club age grouper, Melanie Houghton, was next to go after becoming the last to touch in the second race. World champion, Petria Thomas controlled the proceedings as the Sunshine Coast's, Nicole Irving took third placing. The showdown for the final was between Thomas and Australia's newest member of the Commonwealth Games team, Rachel Coffee, who was included after Ray Hass became unavailable through injury. It was all Thomas, though, in the final, with the Australian champion in all distances proving too strong.
The Australian record-holder in the 50 metre freestyle, Brett Hawke, was a surprise first round exit, soon to be followed by Sydney University team- mate, Nathan Rickard. Western Australian, Jonathon Van Hazel took a well deserved bronze medal with Australian Commonwealth and Pan Pacific teammates, Ashley Callus and Todd Pearson battling it out to be the skins champion. The Australian champion, Callus, was too strong for his Western Australian counterpart, taking the win and resurrecting his first round knock- out last year to take his second title in three years. For the consistent Pearson, it was another solid performance and a good sign for the Australian men's 4x100m freestyle relay team.
Elka Graham took out the first 100m event in the women's 3x100m event with her Commonwealth Games team- mate, Giaan Rooney, backing up after winning the backstroke to win the second 100m event. In the crucial third and final 100m rac,e it was Rooney who proved too strong but was later disqualified for moving on the blocks handing the $5000 to Graham.
The men's medley winner, Justin Norris ran out of puff early in the breaststroke eliminator while Brenton Rickard soon followed in his footsteps. Former Australian record holder in the 200 metre event, Regan Harrison took the third placegetter's cheque, leaving World Short Course champion, Jim Piper, to battle it out against little known Brisbane 20-year-old, Robert McDonald. Piper dominated the final 50 metre event.
Alice Mills, 16, claimed her first ever Qantas Skins title by just touching out Jennifer Reilly in the 200m mystery medley. Mills clocked 2:18.78 to defeat Reilly by just 0.02 second. The Pocket Rocket was powering all 42 kilo grams of her tiny frame through the water prove that size doesn't matter. Jessica Abbott took third placing.