Thorpe Makes Spectacular Return

SYDNEY, December 18. HE hadn’t raced for 15 months, but when Ian Thorpe mounted the blocks last night to compete in the final of the 200-meter freestyle at the New South Wales Championships, it was as if he’d never been gone.

Clad in his familiar black adidas bodysuit, the Thorpedo quickly silenced any speculation about his ability to regain world-class form. Zipping up and down the 50-meter pool at the Sydney Olympic Aquatic Centre, Thorpe touched in an eye-popping 1:46.20, more than four seconds ahead of Ken Monk, the 17-year-old defending champion (1:50.41).

Thorpe’s time ranked him third in the world for 2005. Only Michael Phelps (1:45.20) and Grant Hackett (1:46.14) swam faster this year, and they swam their best times at the World Championships.

Less than three weeks ago, Thorpe’s great rival in the 200-meter free, Holland’s Pieter van den Hoogenband, made his return debut at the US Open in Auburn, Alabama, after missing most of 2005 due to a hernia and surgery to repair the hernia. Hoogie touched in 1:46.23, just .03 seconds behind Thorpe, making him the world’s fourth fastest 200-meter freestyler in 2005.

Thorpe told reporters he had put off his return to competition because he wanted to come back in the same condition that he left, though he says he never left. Asked to comment on his “comeback,” he said: "I am not making a comeback because I have never been away. I wanted to be able to race how I used to be able to race."

Thorpe also said he plans to break his world records in both the 200 and 400-meter freestyle en route to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing

In other highlights:

Olympian Elka Graham showed her comeback is serious as she won the women’s 200m freestyle in 2:01.34, defeating national champion Linda MacKenzie.

Jade Edmistone, world champion and WR-holder in the 50-meter breast (30.45), clocked a speedy 30.66 in the prelims, then withdrew due to a groin injury. She also swam an outstanding 1:07.65 in the prelims of the 100 breast. In her absence, 2000 Olympian Tarnee White took both races, clocking 31.48 and 1:08.56.