Tokyo-Bound Open Water Star Kareena Lee Pooling Her Talents For Next Year’s Olympic Trials

Kareena Lee action
POOL PUSH: Olympic 10km marathon qualifier has her sights set on the pool in the 1500m freestyle. Photo Courtesy Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Australia’s lone 2021 Tokyo Olympic swimming qualifier, Noosa’s Kareena Lee, will be a serious contender for a second event at next year’s Games after a powerful win in the 1500m freestyle at tonight’s Queensland State Championships in Brisbane.

The 26-year-old, coached by legendary Platinum Coach John “JR” Rodgers, has already booked her spot on the Australian Olympic team in the 10km marathon open water event.

And now she wants a place on the pool team at next June’s Olympic Trials in Adelaide.

Kareena Lee and JR in Doha

MASTER STROKE: Kareena Lee gets some final instructions from master coach John “JR” Rodgers. Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

And if tonight’s performance is any indication then she’s in with a shot.

Lee timed her swim to perfection to overtake three-time World Junior champion, including the 1500m, Lani Pallister (Cotton Tree) with 300m to swim.

Lee skipped away over the final six laps to clock a solid time of 16:01.02 – just 0.88 outside her personal best of 16:00.14 swum at the 2018 Australian Championships.

Pallister, who had already notched impressive wins over 400 and 800m freestyle over the first three nights, opened up a commanding lead through the 800m – turning in 8:30.87 to Lee’s 8:33.92.

But over the next 400m Lee had churned up the pool, her distance background kicking in, to overtake a dogged Pallister, who kept digging deep to stay in touch for second in a new Australian and Queensland 18 years record time of 16:05.46.

LANI PALLISTER

ON THE MOVE:  In more ways than one for Lani Pallister….in the pool this week and in the New Year when she moves down the coast from Cotton Tree on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to Griffith University on the Gold Coast. Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia.

One of the two new additions to the Olympic swimming program, along with the men’s 800m freestyle, the women’s 1500m will see a ding-dong battle for the two available spots between the two fastest Australians, Chris Nesbitt’s TSS Aquatic pair in Maddy Gough and Kiah Melverton (third tonight) in 16:11.59, and the two Sunshine Coasters Lee and Pallister, in her final swim for Cotton Tree before her move to coach Michael Bohl and his powerhouse Griffith University squad with her coaching mum Janelle Pallister (nee Elford) in the New Year.

In the men’s 800m it was Rio Olympian Jack McLoughlin (Chandler) – the Commonwealth Games gold medallist over 1500 and bronze medallist over 800m at the Pan Pacs who saved his best till last.

The lead changed four times over the first 500m after Rackley Swim Team’s 17-year-old Sam Short (the impressive winner of the 17 years, 200, 400 and 1500m freestyle at this meet) took the field out through the first 200m.

Then McLoughlin pushed through in the middle to lead through 300m with open 400m winner Elijah Winnington (St Peters Western) right on his shoulder.

And it was Winnington, now under coach Dean Boxall, who touched in front at the half-way mark, splitting the 400m in 3:55.85 from McLoughlin (3:56.00) and his Vince Raleigh-coached 19-year-old club mate Mitchell Tinsley (3:56.63) and Short (3:56.73) who is under Damien Jones at Centenary Rackley.

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ARMED AND DANGEROUS: Jack McLoughlin’s made a winning move at the 500m mark in tonight’s 800m freestyle.Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

At the 500m mark, McLoughlin edged slightly ahead of Winnington and gradually extended his lead to touch first in 7:49.85 ahead of Winnington (7:51.44), Tinsley 7:54.91 and Short (7:56.59) who all clocked personal personal best times as they prepare to jockey for a top eight berth and the final of the 800m at next June’s Olympic Trials in Adelaide.

Meanwhile, exciting young prospect Mollie O’Callaghan (St Peters Western) wrapped up an impressive week’s racing tonight, again stamping herself as a real threat across sprint freestyle and backstroke events, re-writing the record books along the way, determined to keep Australia’s established stars on their toes for a fast approaching 2021 and those Olympic Trials.

The exciting 16-year-old went within a touch (0.16 to be exact) of Minna Atherton’s 50m backstroke Queensland State Age record, clocking 27.75 to become the sixth fastest Australian of all-time with the likes of Emily Seebohm, Atherton, Sophie Edington, Holly Barratt and Kaylee McKeown ahead of her.

All apart from Barratt have all held a world record in backstroke – with Atherton and McKeown current worlds record holders for 100 and 200m backstroke short course.

Tonight’s time was the fastest of the three age group finals – with O’Callaghan taking the 16 years ahead of Moreton Bay Swimming’s Atherton’s (28.33) who won the 19 years and over and Rackley’s World Junior champion Bronte Job (28.58) who took out the 17-18 years.

MOLLIE O'CALLAGHAN 2

STRENGTH POWER WILL:  St Peters Western young gun Mollie O’Callaghan has certainly shown all those traits in an impressive Queensland State Championship meet this week. Photo Courtesy: Medal Shots (Swimming Queensland).

In a week to remember, O’Callaghan mixed it with some of the cream of Australia’s elite women’s team and lowered their records, dropping her 50m freestyle to 25.09, her 100m backstroke to 59.59 – third behind McKeown and Atherton and her 200m freestyle to 1:58.79 tonight.

But it’s in the 100m freestyle where O’Callaghan is really turning heads.

She has certainly shown her hand as a serious contender for Australia’s 4100m freestyle relay squad’s “Dream Team” – the Cate Campbell and Bronte Campbell and Emma McKeon led Olympic, World, Pan Pacific and Commonwealth Games champions and world record holders.

In three swims over two days, O’Callaghan took her best time from 54.77 to 54.65 (a heat swim in the 16 years event) which broke Cate Campbell’s 2008 Queensland All-Comers record of 54.69.

Not at full stretch, O’Callaghan then lowered her own time again, to 54.25, but it only lasted 24 hours before she stepped up into the open women’s final.

Racing Emma McKeon, Mollie cracked the 54 second barrier, posting a time of 53.93 – an improvement of 0.85 in three swims finishing second to McKeon (Australia’s third fastest 100m swimmer in history) who won the title in 52.46 – clocking the fastest time in the world for 2020.

Needless to say she was in good company.

It leaves O’Callaghan as the fourth fastest of six Australians so far for 2020 – the most of any country – in the top 25 for 2020, albeit in a COVID-19 affected year that prevented many of the Europeans and North Americans unable to swim in long course majors.

But the times are still worth noting with:

No 1: Emma McKeon (52.46

No 2: Cate Campbell (52.87)

No 9. Madi Wilson (53.50)

No 19. Mollie O’Callaghan (53.93)

No 20. Bronte Campbell (54.03) and;

No 25. Kaylee McKeown (54.33).

It should also be noted that starting Friday will be the Western Australian State Championships in Perth, featuring Rio Olympian Brianna Throssell (a member of the World Championship winning 4x100m freestyle relay from Gwangju last year).

Throssell has won the 100m freestyle on eight of the last nine occasions at the WA States so expect her to make the most of the final opportunity to post a fast time as 2020 comes to an end.

For a preview of some of the major events at the WA States CLICK HERE.

In another other highlights tonight, dual Olympian Mitch Larkin (St Peters Western) completed his busy schedule of racing, winning the 50 backstroke in a solid 25.03 and adding it to his wins in the 100m backstroke (52.75) and the 200IM (1:56.32) also racing in “off events” where he finished second to Matt Temple (Nunawading) in the 100m butterfly in 52.78 and 10th in the 100m freestyle final in a respectable 50.28.

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