Australian Trials, Day 5 Heats: Cate Campbell Eliminated From Stacked Field in Women’s 100 Freestyle; Meg Harris Paces Qualifiers


Australian Trials, Day 5 Heats: Cate Campbell Eliminated From Stacked Field in Women’s 100 Freestyle

By Nicole Jeffery

Former world record-holder and world champion Cate Campbell was the major casualty of the cutthroat women’s 100m freestyle preliminaries at the Australian Olympic trials in Brisbane on Friday.

Campbell, 32, missed qualifying for the final by the barest margin of 0.01sec. She clocked 54.27sec, the ninth fastest time of the morning, just behind world junior medallist Milla Jansen’s 54.26.

In the best-credentialed sprint field ever assembled in Australia, Meg Harris, who has overcome deafness to become a world-class swimmer, qualified fastest in 52.52sec, just a touch ahead of 2023 world champion Mollie O’Callaghan (52.57sec).

World medallist Shayna Jack (52.65) and former world champion Bronte Campbell (52.95) were the other swimmers under 53 seconds in the heats.

An emotional Bronte Campbell paid tribute to her sister after the event, revealing that Cate had been ill leading into the trials.

“I’m obviously really disappointed for Cate,’’ she said.

“I think she’s one of the most incredible athletes that we’ve ever had in this event. She was our No.1 freestyler for what 10-11-12 years in a row. That’s a feat that’s pretty much unmatched in Australian sporting history. I know she was a bit ill leading into this and had a really rough last few weeks, so I’m sure she’ll be disappointed because we all know that she’s an incredible athlete and can swim a lot faster than that.”

Cate still has one last chance to qualify for her fifth Olympic team, in Saturday’s 50m freestyle, but that field is almost as stacked as this one.

Bronte, 30, has also had a disrupted preparation after tearing a calf muscle in April, which restricted her training for a month leading into the trials. But with master sprint coach Shannon Rollason guiding her in Canberra, she has emerged with a shot at an individual place tonight.

“Making the final, making the top eight in Australia, it’s like making an international final almost,’’ she said. “It’s an incredibly tough field and I’m glad to be part of it.”

“I think there’s really six or seven girls that could come in those top two spots. So it’s just about doing your own race tonight. I can pretty much say 100% that this is my last Olympic trials, so (I want to) just go out and enjoy that race for what it is.”

Harris, 22, had the advantage of swimming in the final seeded heat, but she said she had just gone “all out’’ to make the final.

“(It was) pretty nerve-racking,’’ she said. “I knew that I was going have to do something big to get into the final because of all the other girls coming through and I was just racing to get in.”

Jack, who was suspended for a doping infraction before the Tokyo Olympic trials, said she was just grateful to have the chance to compete.

“I am just enjoying the journey,’’ she said. “No matter what happens tonight, I know that I’ve trained harder than ever and worked harder than ever, and am honestly just proud of myself for standing on pool deck.”

World junior champion Olivia Wunsch set a personal best of 53.30sec to keep alive her chances of winning selection, while Olympic champion Emma McKeon (53.61) will have to improve substantially in the final to have the opportunity to defend her title in Paris.

The versatile Brianna Throssell (53.78) also claimed a place in the final, surviving the sudden-death round. Olympic 200m and 400m freestyle champion Ariarne Titmus (54.37) and Olympic 100m and 200m backstroke champion Kaylee McKeown (54.75) were among those who were eliminated.

Earlier, Olympic 200m breaststroke champion Zac Stubblety-Cook (Chandler, QLD, Vince Raleigh) cruised effortlessly through the preliminary round of his main event, registering a 2:08.40 to lead the field into the final.

“I had to wait four days, so I needed to blow some cobwebs out, which is good and I was pretty happy with that, considering I haven’t done that in the morning since (2023) World Champs,’’ he said. “It’s been a while.”

“I think tonight Josh (Yong) and a couple of the other guys will have a bit more front-end speed so it will be good to be in a bit more of a race and hopefully build through that back end.”

Yong (UWA West Coast, Ben Higson), who secured his place on the Olympic team with his second place finish in the 100m breaststroke, was the second fastest qualifier today (2:10.66), from Baily Lello (Chandler, 2:11.46), Joshua Collett (Bond, 2:11.83) and Finlay Schuster (Chandler, 2:12.57).

Former world record-holder Matt Wilson (SOPAC, NSW, Adam Kable) progressed in sixth place (2:12.85) after a disrupted preparation.

Stubblety-Cook was disappointed to finish third in the 100m breaststroke, and probably lose his spot in the medley relay, on the opening day of the trials, but he said the rise of specialist 100m breaststroker Sam Williamson was good for the Australian team if not for his personal relay prospects.

“I don’t really mind about being beaten by the other boys. It’s more I just wanted to swim my best and didn’t quite get there, probably got caught up a little bit in the occasion. But you know, I think this is the first time we’ve kind of had a bit of emphasis on the 100 so that’s new and I’m getting used to that. It is what it is, you learn and you roll with it.”

He said the positive side was that it would enable him to focus totally on the 200m and fending off the challenge from the new world record-holder Qin Haiyang of China.

“It has its pros and cons, for sure. The pro is that we can now focus on the 200, but the con is that I don’t get any relay swims. But at the same time, you know, I’ve enjoyed those relays for quite a few years and those boys are definitely very deserving of that.’’

In the women’s 200m breaststroke heats, the 2022 world championships silver medallist Jenna Strauch looked to be back to her old self after a debilitating knee injury kept her out of last year’s world titles.

Strauch (Miami, QLD, Richard Scarce) threw down a strong qualifier of 2:24.83 to set the pace in the opening heat, ahead of her training partner Matilda Smith (2:26.95).

Chandler’s Ella Ramsay, 19, who has already secured an Olympic spot in the 200m individual medley, stamped herself as a contender after winning her heat in 2:25.21, less than a second outside her best time.

Abbey Harkin (St Peters Western, 2:28.83) won the other seeded heat narrowly from Mikayla Smith (Griffith University, 2:28.99).

Former world champion and Olympic silver medallist Mitch Larkin only just scraped into the 200m backstroke final in eighth place (1:59.93) after coming back from a shoulder reconstruction last year.

National champion Bradley Woodward (Mingara, NSW) led the way in 1:56.91, from Joshua Edwards-Smith (Griffith University, QLD, 1:58.14), Stuart Swinburn (City of Sydney, NSW, 1:58.48) and Enoch Robb (All Saints, QLD, 1:58.91).

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