“No-Name” Grant Cleland Wins Aussie Open Water Title in Stunning Upset, Fulfills Dream

By Ian Hanson

LAKE ORR, Australian Gold Coast, April 20. GRANT
Cleland made a New Year’s Eve resolution in the year 2000 to one day swim for Australia. Today, on the Gold Coast, his dream came true.

The former NSW State age group champion, who works a 40-hour week for a bar-coding company, defeated a "Who’s Who" of Australian open water swimming to win the Telstra Australian 5000m title on Lake Orr, on the Gold Coast.

The 23-year-old won himself a place on the Australian team for this year’s World Championships in Egypt in September and the Pan Pacific Championships in Montreal in August.

The women’s event went to seasoned international Trudee Hutchinson (Redcliffe Leagues, Lawnton), from Natalie Benson (City of Perth, WA) and Katie Canning (Miami), herself, very much on the swimming comeback trail.

Cleland (The Hills, NSW), who quit swimming for almost three years after contacting glandular fever when he was 18, defeated Australia’s premier open water swimmer Mark Saliba (Campbelltown, NSW) in a thrilling finish.

The pair swam stroke-for-stroke for the last 500 metres, until Cleland edged in front with just 10 metres to swim, winning in a time of 59 minutes 23 seconds – one second clear of Saliba, with world championship team member Leigh Bool (Ipswich, Vikings, Qld) third in 1:00.05.

Cleland left iron man king and 1998 World Championship silver medalist Ky Hurst (fifth) and WA’s Nederpelt brothers Travis (fourth) and Jarrad (sixth) in his wake.

With his family swarming around him, Cleland later revealed his swimming career was "all washed up" back in 1998 when suffering from glandular fever, he thought his dream of one day representing Australia would never be fulfilled.

"I quit swimming and left my alarm-clock in the bottom draw and took up kick-boxing, convinced my swimming career had been and gone," Cleland, who’s mother Carol has been a long-time swimming supporter at Blacktown ASC.

"I was actually sitting around on New Year’s Eve in the year 2000 with my girlfriend and my family who encouraged me to make a comeback to swimming.

"I approached coach Greg McWhirter at The Hills and it was on his suggestion that we take to the open water swimming, while also contesting the long distance 1500 metres freestyle events.

"But unlike most top line swimmers I have a full-time job with JRC International (a bar coding company) and I work 40 hours a week – so to win this race today is like a dream come true.

"My day starts at 4am in the pool – I work a full day – and then dive back in the pool for an afternoon session.

"But I’ve had this burning desire to swim for Australia and to know I’ve finally done that is just the best feeling – to represent the best country in the world in swimming is just fantastic."

Meanwhile, Trudee Hutchinson’s experience told in the end when the 2000 and 2001 World Championship team member surged past the field on the final 500 metres to go one better than last year, when she finished second to triple Olympian Hayley Lewis.

“I was wrapped in that swim and I’m now really looking forward to the 10km tomorrow,” said Hutchinson.

Silver medallist Natalie Benson from City of Perth showed her transformation from pool to open water with an outstanding performance as did bronze medalist Katie Canning from the Denis Cotterell Miami squad, who has been sidelined with illness for most of the 2002 season.

The Swimmer with a disability categories went to Paralympic star Telopea’s Siobhan Paton (women’s) and Michael Palfrey (AJs Swimming, Qld) who won the men’s.

The 10,000m championship will be swum on Sunday (10am) with the 25km at 8.30am on Sunday.

Ian Hanson
Hanson Sports Media Pty. Ltd.
Media Director
Australian Swimming Inc.
(0407) 385-160