By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 28. DISASTER nearly struck the United States in the preliminaries of the women's 800 freestyle relay as the Red, White and Blue grabbed the last qualifying berth for the final. Meanwhile, Australia took the No. 1 seed for the evening session and a championship final that figures to be a barnburner.
Relying on the foursome of Linda Mackenzie, Stephanie Rice, Lara Davenport and Bronte Barratt, Australia stopped the clock in 7:57.50, more than a second clear of the 7:58.76 turned in by Germany for the second position. France (7:59.48) and Japan (7:59.58) also broke the eight-minute barrier to finish in the third and fourth slots.
Turning to the unit of Amanda Weir, Margaret Hoelzer, Kara Lynn Joyce and Lacey Nymeyer, the United States touched in 8:02.87, a mark that ultimately held off the 8:02.98 of China for a position in the final. Without question, the U.S. will go with at least three new faces for the final, Katie Hoff, Natalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer. Which athlete handles the fourth slot remains to be seen, although Joyce (1:59.00) had the best morning split.
The Australian squad will also get stronger at night when Libby Lenton and Jodie Henry are added to the relay. Also advancing the medal round were Great Britain (8:00.34), the Netherlands (8:02.40) and Sweden (8:02.63). Look for France to make a major push tonight with Laure Manaudou added to the relay and for Germany, the world-record holder, to also challenge.
Check back for an updated story on this event as our team of Senior Writer John Lohn and CEO Brent Rutemiller, on the scene at Rod Laver Arena, provide in-depth coverage, along with radio and TV segments.