By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, March 26. AN Australian established himself as the top qualifier in the 800 freestyle, but it wasn't Grant Hackett. Swimming in the fifth of six heats, Craig Stevens earned the top slot for the championship final, scheduled to be contested tomorrow night. Stevens covered the 16-lap event in 7:50.72 and gave the Aussie crowd a nice sendoff from the morning session.
Setting the tone in the fourth heat, Italy's Federico Colbertaldo was a touch behind Stevens' time, as he delivered a mark of 7:50.77. The final heat then produced the next three qualifiers, with Tunisia's Ous Mellouli going wire-to-wire for the top swim of 7:51.48. Hard-charging Canadian Ryan Cochrane followed in 7:51.55 and Hackett touched in 7:51.86. The defending champ, Hackett broke the world record two years ago in 7:38.65.
The remaining three positions for the championship heat belonged to Poland's Przemyslaw Stanczyk (7:52.40), the Ukraine's Sergiy Fesenko (7:52.64) and France's Sebastien Rouault (7:52.92). The United States had had Peter Vanderkaay and Erik Vendt just miss the final by placing ninth and 10th, respectively. Vanderkaay went 7:54.37 and Vendt was timed in 7:54.48.