By David Mason
BRISBANE, QLD., Autralia. March 22. MATT Welsh showed Australia's freestyle king, Ian Thorpe, he has a lot of work to do if he wants to wrestle the backstroke crown from his head with a devastating performance in claiming the 100m backstroke title at the Australian Championships tonight.
Thorpe moving over to the backstroke was very much like a champion boxer stepping up a weight division only to find the going a little tough. But, with more training, who knows what will happen?
Welsh clocked 54.96 to easily outlast Thorpe, whose 55.74 was good enough to suggest he will be a force in backstroke in the coming months and years.
Ray Hass finished 3rd with a time of 56.98 but all the talk on the pooldeck centred on Welsh's performance and the impact Thorpe's presence will have on the backstroke events.
Welsh, the current 100m backstroke World Champion went into the race wanting to put a massive gap on Thorpe to avoid becoming just another one of Thorpe's snacks as he devours his opponents over the final 25m.
Welsh took it out very hard, to turn in 26.30 and had a full body length on Thorpe as they headed for home and for once Thorpe could not muster up the strength to power home.
"I knew Thorpey was going to come home fast because last night he pretty much did an even split in the semifinal and that was after he had just swum the 100m freestyle final," Welsh said. "My plan was to get out hard and put as big a buffer on him as I could."
While Welsh has put a big gap on his new rival after 50m, Thorpe's traditional finish was hampered by a simple case of disorientation.
"You can't see where you are in backstroke because you can't look across. You can only look at the ceiling so I had no idea where Matt was. But, there is a very nice design on the ceiling at this pool," he said with a smile.
"That time (55.74) is up there with the time I swam at the Pan Pacs so I am very happy. I have enjoyed it (swimming the backstroke) and I'm looking forward to swimming it at the Commonwealth Games."
In other races tonight, Justin Norris, Geoff Huegill, Sarah Ryan, Jim Piper, Clementine Stoney, Leisel Jones, Elka Graham and Dyana Calub all notched victories.
Olympic and World Championships bronze medalist Norris completed the 200m-400m individual medley double from Robbie Van Der Zant (2:02.10), who may have swum his way into the Commonwealth Games team with a rousing last 50m dash, in which he almost overcame Norris (2:02.07).
Hometown hero Geoff Huegill found himself well under world record pace at the 50m turn of the 100m butterfly but could not hold the frenetic pace, clocking 52.30. His first 50m split of 24.17 would have placed him 5th on the all-time fastest 50m swims by an Australian, going faster than Scott Miller ever did for 50m.
It was no wonder he died in the last 15m to win from Adam Pine (53.26) and Shane Fielding 54.50.
Sarah Ryan held onto her Australian 50m freestyle title, defeating Jodie Henry by the slightest possible margin, clocking 25.80 to be just 0.01 in front of the Queensland teenager in 25.81.
After her race Ryan said: "I hope Jodie doesn't grow finger nails like mine because she might beat me," referring to her incredibly long – and colored – finger nails.
Jim Piper stayed on track for the breaststroke treble by winning the 50m title, in a time of 28.76 from Brenton Rickard (28.92) and Phil Rogers (29.04).
Clementine Stoney (2:11.59) marched onto the Commonwealth Games team with a victory in the 200m backstroke from fellow World Championships representative Kelly Tucker (2:13.84).
Leisel Jones became the fist woman since Samantha Riley in 1992 to win the breaststroke treble after claiming the 100m title in a time of 1:07.90 from Tarnee White (1:09.18) and Brooke Hanson (1:09.83). Ironically it was Riley who presented Jones with her medal in the official presentation after the race.
Elka Graham produced the best finish of the night to devour Amanda Pascoe with her last stroke to win the 400m freestyle.
Graham, who had earlier won the 200m freestyle, won in a time of 4:14.00 from Pascoe in 4:14.10. After the race the 18-year-old Pascoe was asked about the last gasp victory by Graham and she said: "She (Graham) has done that before but she won't do it again".
The final victory of the night went to Dyana Calub, who showed her tremendous inner strength to edge out Giaan Rooney and Petria Thomas in the 50m backstroke. Calub touched the wall in 28.98 with Rooney (29.18) and Thomas (29.59) filling the minor placings.
In tonight's Multi Disability (M/D) events, there were wins for Ben Austin, Sarah Bowen and Owen Bradley.
Wellington's Ben Austin won the M/D 100m freestyle in a time of 1:01.47 from Victoria's Alex Harris and Geelong's Daniel Bell.
Victoria's Sarah Bowen won the women's M/D 50m breaststroke in a time of 51.03 with Telstra Dolphin with a Disability Swimmer of the Year Alicia Aberley and Marayke Jonkers from Queensland.
Bradley Owen, from Queensland, took out the men's M/D 50m breaststroke in a time of 37.30 with Daniel Bell claiming silver and Rick Pendleton finishing third.