BRISBANE - The Australian selectors had set a selection criteria that would see a team of up to 40 swimmers named to represent Australia at the Perth World Championships. For the Freestyle Relays, the first four in the 100 and 200 are automatic selections for the team, with fifth and sixth available as third and fourth priorities. In other events, winners are automatically selected; second-placed swimmers are priority two to be on the team of 40.
With the Open Nationals being conducted at the Sleeman Aquatic Centre, out of the Australian summer season and many student athletes committed to studies in the last semester of the school year, observers were anxious to see what the standard of swimming would be. Many swimmers and coaches were not interested in times swum, only in whether they made the team. If they were successful in that goal, they still had three months to bring themselves to top condition to race the world in Perth.
The title holder for the event, Susan O'Neill, qualified in lane two, with lane four going to her fellow Olympian Julia Greville. Pan Pac improver Kate Godfrey swam a PB in the prelims, and 14-year-old Rebecca Creedy showed a lot of promise for her age.
Susan O'Neill led the field by a narrow margin at 25 m and turned ahead of the field at the 50 in 27.13. It was O'Neill all the way, with the middle-distance swimmer Greville challenging in the second lap but not able to dent the lead established by the Olympic 200 Butterfly champion. Only the first two swimmers swam under 57 seconds-still not a strong event for women's sprint swimming in Australia. O'Neill finished in 56.33, with Julia Greville second in 56.81.
Olympic medallist Phil Rogers qualified first for the final and looked set to take out his ninth consecutive national title in the sprint breaststroke event.
Rogers led the field for the first 50 and then the challenges were thrown down, first by training partner Ryan Mitchell at the 75-m mark and then in the last ten metres by a promising young athlete, Simon Cowley from Sydney, who swam on his first national team at the Fukuoka Pan Pacific Championships. Cowley's challenge was successful (his 1:02.41 was a half a second improvement on his PB) and Rogers' long string of championship wins in this event came to an end. Rogers' time was 1:02.53.
Olympian Emma Johnson qualified for the lane four spot with an easy 4:52.84 in the prelims.
In the final, Johnson took out the butterfly strongly and led easily through the three form strokes to gap the field. Nadine Neumann made up some ground in the breaststroke leg, but was conceding three seconds to Johnson at the start of the freestyle.
Johnson still had enough gas in the tank to swim 4:44.85, within a second of her best time from Atlanta. Neumann took second place in 4:49.28, and with Johnson will represent Australia in Perth at the World Championships.
The new find in Australian men's sprint freestyle, Michael Klim, qualified fastest in an easy 1:50.43, closely followed by William Kirby in 1:50.86. The surprise of the prelims was the non-qualifying of Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett. Perkins was not perturbed, but looking forward to spending time at home with the new arrival in the family, daughter Georgia Jane, and wife Samantha. Hackett, though, could not get going in his first swim of the meet.
In the final, Klim led marginally at 25 m. The first 50 m saw Klim through in 24.13, and at the 100, Klim was still leading in 52.06. He was swimming strongly at the 150, where he went through in 1:19.96 making a one horse race of it to lead the field by 5 m in 1:48.04.
Matthew Dunn, one of the world's leading medley swimmers, swam 1:49.88, a PB in his 200 freestyle, with the promise of better things to come in his two medley swims later in the meet. However, without Hackett and Perkins in the field, it did not look so good for the Men's 4x200 Freestyle Relay in Perth. All is not lost though with a clause in the selection criteria making all selected members of the team eligible to swim in relays. It was hoped that Perkins and Hackett would claim places on the team with performances in the 400 and 1500 to come.
Olympian Julia Greville was fastest qualifier in 2:01.89, with Susan O'Neill filling lane 5 with a 2:03.67 and the World Short Course middle-distance champion, Natasha Bowron, qualifying third. The winner was expected from this group of fastest qualifiers, although Emma Johnson could cause an upset.
O'Neill and Greville took the lead at the start and went through 25 m locked together. Greville broke away and went into the 50-m turn just ahead of her rival. It was still the Perth Club swimmer showing the way through 100 in 58.36, but it was O'Neill who put in a good third 50 to almost level with Greville at the third turn. The two swimmers fought out the last 50 with experience and a great competitive spirit winning the day for Susan O'Neill. O'Neill finished in 2:00.33 and Greville was second in 2:00.48. Anna Windsor, who returned from the USA for the Trials, took third place in 2:02.67. Natasha Bowron was a disappointed swimmer with 2:03.61 in fourth place, but will be on the team for Perth.
Matthew Dunn, the favourite, led the qualifiers and was not expected to be seriously challenged in taking his sixth national title in this event.
The final saw strong challenges from the young brigade of Zane King and Trent Steed, like Dunn from the Australian Institute of Sport and keen to take Dunn's mantle of top-dog medley swimmer from the two-time Olympian.
All three swimmers went through the butterfly close together with Dunn just ahead in 58.78. His backstroke let him down with a 1:07 high, allowing the two challengers to sit at his shoulders to the halfway mark. Dunn and Steed made a break in the breaststroke with the champion staying a half body length in front to the start of the freestyle. Then Dunn used his superior freestyle to put the result in no doubt, winning easily by a margin of five metres in 4:19.1 from Steed (4:22.62) with King eight metres further back in 4:24.26.
Helen Denman, a former Western Australian now training in Adelaide with Coach Glenn Beringen, had the fastest time in the prelims with 1:10.78. The former World Champion and record holder Samantha Riley clocked 1:11.38 for lane 5 in the final.
The field got away to a fast start with Denman just heading Riley as they surfaced, but it was Riley who turned in 32.15, ahead of Denman's 32.93.
Riley went from strength to strength as the race progressed and had put a three-metre gap between herself and the remainder of the field at 75 m. But Denman was not giving in easily and came home strongly to reduce the lead to one body length and finish second in 1:08.96.
Samantha Riley swam a second all-time best in 1:07.66, improving upon her winning time from the 1994 World Championship when she won in the then-World Record time of 1:07.69. Penelope Heyns, South Africa, established a new world record for the event of 1:07.46 in Durban on March 4, 1996, and then reduced the time to 1:07.02 in Atlanta at the Olympic Games last year. At the 1997 Pan Pacific Championships, Riley bettered Heyns in both breaststroke events. The stage is now set for a great struggle for supremacy at the Perth World Championships next January.
Riley looked sensational and said: "Right now I can't wait for the World Championships to come," to which her coach Scott Volkers responded, "I can. There's still a lot we can do to go faster." Samantha added, "It just feels so great to go faster than I did in winning the World Championship in Rome."
Women's 400 freestyle still looked disappointing following the prelims, with the fastest qualifier Julia Greville recording an ordinary 4:18.38. But then the middle-distance swimmers tend to swim just fast enough to make the final in a centre lane.
The final was a perfect start with all eight swimmers in line, but Greville moved out as the early leader at 50 m and went through the first 100 in 59.26. She enjoyed a dream run out in front to lead Natasha Bowron by three body lengths at 200 m in 2:03.28. It appeared that there were no challengers for first place, taken by Greville in 4:13.73. Only second and third places were to provide a contest between Bowron, Emily Pedrazzini, and Emma Johnson. The World Short Course champion, Bowron, despite having a very limited preparation this year due to an abdominal problem, managed to hold on for the silver in 4:16.25 from Pedrazzini in third in 4:18.05. The times gave no joy to Head Coach Don Talbot, who must be at a loss to explain why this traditional middle distance swimming country cannot produce a female swimmer to break 4:10 at a national championship.
Michael Klim set a cracking pace in the prelims to swim the fastest 100 Freestyle at an Australian Championships, going through in 23.91 for a 49.49.
Klim's record has been one of swimming faster in the prelims than the final, until master coach Gennadi Touretski recommended a change in shave down schedule. The question on the pundits lips before the final was would Klim go faster in this final? He has a personal best of 49.15 from the 1997 Pan Pacific Championships and boasts Alexandre Popov as a training partner at the Australian Institute of Sport. His coach has gone against the traditional Australian high elbow technique to fashion a straight arm recovery for his protege. Before the final, Touretski believed that Klim's 200 and not the 100 freestyle will be his best event at the Perth World Championships.
Next fastest qualifiers were Chris Fydler with a 50.91 and Adam Pine, who returned from US college studies, with a 51.02. Fydler was defending his record of five consecutive titles in this event and having just completed his studies in law and started a career in Sydney, he was out to do that and qualify for Perth.
In the final, Chris Fydler won the start, with all other swimmers in a line. At 25 m it was the swimmer in Lane 8, David Carter, who led ahead of Fydler and Klim. At the turn Klim's strength started to show, and he was ahead of Fydler by 0.60 s, splitting 23.80 for the first lap.
Klim turned and led the field through the second lap, half a body length in front at 75 m, and finishing in 49.55, slightly slower than his prelim swim. The former champion Chris Fydler, 50.45, had to be content with the silver medal. The bronze medal went to Adam Pine, 50.76, better known as a butterflyer.
After the race Klim was not perturbed at going a little slower in the final, saying, "Finals are a different matter. Lots of things happen like swimmers trying to drag off you. The aim is to win. I'm trying to establish myself as a consistent swimmer capable of swimming well all the time, and 49.5 is not a bad swim. It's one of my best. I'm happy with that; it felt quite effortless." When asked if the 100 Freestyle was his best event, Klim said, "I have three events and I think I have an equal chance in each. There is no one event which is a favourite or on which I place more emphasis than another."
Meredith Smith qualified first with 1:03.82, followed by Elli Overton, just returned from studies in America, with 1:04.13.
In the final, Smith was fast away and led the field through the 25 m mark by half a body length. Overton was at her shoulder as they went into the turn; Smith with 31.14. As they approached 75 m, Overton challenged but Smith was equal to it and went on strongly to win her first 100 backstroke title at national long course, in 1:02.4. She won the 200 Backstroke in 1994 and must now rate as favourite for that event. Overton silvered in 1:03.65.
Olympic bronze medallist in this event, Scott Goodman, swam a smart sub-two-minute qualifier in 1:59.66. He was followed by a newcomer to the top butterfly ranks, Zane King, from the same training squad at the AIS, in 2:01.80. Pan Pac swimmer Greg Shaw came in as the third fastest in the morning prelims with 2:02.45.
Once the gun went, Scott Goodman served notice that he was out after a fast time. He is ranked number one in the world this year. In the absence of Scott Miller there was no one who could go the 25+ pace at the first turn nor the 55+ at 100. King and Shaw were having a battle to shake off the experienced William Kirby.
Goodman, the Commonwealth record holder for the event, showed his class by finishing less than a quarter of a second off his Commonwealth mark and showing a clean pair of heels to the rest of the field. Zane King, to date having concentrated on individual medley swimming, improved from a PB of 2:06.60 before the meet to being close to breaking the 2-minute barrier with 2:00.07.
This was an event of major interest at these Trials. Competing were the dual World and Olympic champion, holder of all the world middle-distance and distance freestyle records, Olympic silver and bronze medallist, the world fastest middle distance swimmer this year, and the fastest 14-year-old age group swimmer ever.
In the prelims, the fastest qualifier was the World SC and Pan Pacific champion Grant Hackett, 17 (3:55.95), followed by Olympic silver medallist Daniel Kowalski, 22, Pan Pacific silver medallist Ian Thorpe, 14, and Kieren Perkins, 24.
In the final, Hackett was first away and led Kowalski through the 50 m and the 100 in 54.47. Thorpe had moved up to second place and Kowalski was making another forward move coming up to the 200.
Hackett split 1:52.29 at the half-way point, well in front with Thorpe just touching out Kowalski. Perkins was in fourth place. Kowalski dropped back from Thorpe. Hackett was 2:50.53 at 300 m, three seconds ahead of Thorpe. One and a half seconds further back was Kowalski. Hackett sprinted home in 3:46.85 to record a fifth all-time world best and a second world rank for 1997.
Thorpe swam another great time for a 14-year-old, finishing second in 3:50.23, and commented after the race, "Grant is just awesome. My plan was to go out with him, but he set such a cracking pace that my plan did not work."
Hackett remarked that he should have gone out a bit harder and that his taper was only a quarter of the one for the Pan Pacific Championships. "I came home the last one hundred in 56 and had a lot left in the tank."
The new guard of young swimmers had kept the champion Kieren Perkins out of the team at this stage of the meet. Kieren must have felt like it was the 1996 Olympic Trials revisited, with the 1500 on the last day of the meet being his remaining chance to place on the national team. Coach John Carew commented after the race that Kieren's time was four seconds slower than he had planned.
In the final, Helen Denman in lane eight went out really fast, leading the way through the first 50 in 32.08 ahead of the champion, Samantha Riley (33.06), and even more astounding ,the 100 in 1:08.83. However, it became obvious that she was having a private race over 100 with the second 100 a swim down; she finished with a 200 time of 2:45.07.
Riley's 1:09.36 at the 100 got on with the real race and brought the rest of the field home from a commanding position progressively further in front. Her 150-m split was 1:46.76 and she looked set for another good time with a first-place finish of 2:25.54.
Former national age group champion Josh Watson, 20, qualified fastest with 56.43, closely followed by Adrian Radley with 56.61.
In the final, Matt Welsh, the 50-m champion at this meet, moved ahead at 30 m over Radley, who won the start with very good speed underwater. Welsh was never headed and from a 50-m split of 27.50 recorded a third all-time best Australian mark of 56.20. Adrian Radley brought home the second lap strongly to hold off other challengers and goes onto the World Championship team with his second place in 56.57.
The "Male Backstroker Wanted" sign is still up in Australia.
Defending champion and seven-time consecutive winner of this event, Susan O'Neill, qualified with a smart 1:00.82. Atlanta silver medallist in the 200 Butterfly, Petria Thomas, 1:01.18, was in second. Olympic representative Angela Kennedy, 1:01.84, was third. Pan Pac team member Kate Godfrey would swim from lane 6, with Swedish visitor Johann Sjoeberg, 1:01.88, relegated to swim in the consolation final.
In the final, Angela Kennedy was first away with her great underwater start and led the field to the turn. From there O'Neill showed her superiority to overhaul Kennedy. O'Neill's winning time was 59.72. Olympic silver medallist Thomas went on with the race in the second lap to record her best 100 time since 1994, 1:00.64, and earn a spot on the World Championship team. Susan O'Neill improved her world ranking this year to seventh place in the 100.
Fellow Olympians and club mates Ryan Mitchell and Philip Rogers were first and second in qualifying for the final; but the burr under the saddle is still there. Rogers was the conqueror in the 100 earlier in the meet. Simon Cowley was well placed as third qualifier alongside Mitchell.
In the final, Phil Rogers had the lead at the mid point and turned for the second hundred in 1:06.48, ahead of Mitchell and Harrison.
Simon Cowley, winner of the 100 breast, put in his bid in the third length to lead Mitchell and Rogers through the third turn with a time of 1:41.47. Cowley looked impressive as he went to the line to complete the breaststroke double, a clear winner in 2:16.09 over Ryan Mitchell, 2:16.30, and Phil Rogers, 2:17.04, who was the six-time winner of these championships.
Anna Windsor, 1996 Olympian, qualified in lane four with 2:19.88. The girl from the country town of Albury and the AIS, Jacinta van Lint, swam into lane 5 for the final with a 2:20.20 with Emma Johnson third qualifier in the time of 2:20.47. The challenger to this trio would be Elli Overton, a five-time winner of this event over the last six years. Elli was in lane six with 2:20.54. She was the best world-ranked Australian in the final at 34th place.
In the final, fly specialist Petria Thomas was leader at the end of that stroke ahead of Johnson who went through the 100 in 1:04.40. Overton spread the field in the breaststroke leg and brought home the last lap to be a convincing winner and improve her world standing for 1997 - still off the pace, but with two and a half months to go training with Coach Mike Walker at Cal Berkley, she is capable of returning to her best medley swimming.
After a farcical false start when the automatic mechanism failed to function, the swimmers went through the first 50 m and were not stopped until an official hot footed it to the 50 m end and manually released that false start rope. The "A" Final was postponed for fifteen minutes.
In the restart, Klim "went for the doctor." Although shaded at the start he was to surface at 20 m and go through the first 50 in 24.61, just 0.42 seconds slower than Denis Pankratov's world record split. No one could keep to this pace as Michael spread-eagled the field to look a certain winner from the 60 m mark onward, touching in 52.15, a new world record.
It was a sensational swim by the young Australian Institute of Sport swimmer to establish a new world record, eclipsing Pankratov's standard of 52.27 by 12/100 of a second. This world record is the first in 100 Butterfly by an Australian, and the first world record by an individual Australian swimmer coached by Gennadi Touretski.
Michael Klim, just after his world record, said: "I'm just happy to win. When I looked at the scoreboard I immediately thought back to Gotenburg (where he was credited erroneously with a fantastic time well in advance of the world record). Gennadi (Coach Touretski) was joking after the false start and before the second start to the race - 'This is just like a world championship fight. Now's the time to go into round two and deliver the knockout blow.' The false start really helped me to get rid of the nerves and I felt really great all through the race. Wow! I don't know what to say."
Michael said it all in the water and that's the best way.
With his feet firmly planted on the ground, the young Australian said, "Well. The rest of the world will be out after me now. If I want to win the World Championship in Perth, it's back to work with Gennadi."
Eighteen-year-old Geoff Huegill clocked half a second outside his best in winning the silver medal in 53.16, indicative that he has not yet fully recovered from his illnesses earlier this year. He too could feature among the medals at the World Championships.
The 200 winner at these championships, Scott Goodman, made an improvement of 0.76 seconds on his PB in coming from behind to take the bronze medal in 53.28.
In the final, Julia Greville led the field through the first 50 in 29.74, with Natasha Bowron taking over the lead at the 100 in 1:02.13. Greville was one-tenth of a second behind.
Bowron continued to lead the field as she went through the 200 in 2:08.07 with Greville at her shoulder to 300 m. Then it was Nadine Neumann who made a move to join the two leaders. The trio gapped the field with the only other challenge possible to come from Harris.
Greville resumed the role of pacemaker at the 450 turn and went through the 500 in 5:26.36, ahead of Bowron, with Neuman now in third place. Greville held this lead to win the race and complete the 400/800m double of championships. The time, however, was a lamentable 8:43.55, the slowest winning time in this event for at least the last decade.
Michael Klim recovered very well from his world record-breaking swim of the previous night in the 100 Butterfly to qualify with the fastest time in the 50 freestyle prelims. World Student Games 50 winner Nathan Rickard qualified second.
In the final, Nathan Rickard won from the start and was never threatened. The further they went the further he increased his lead - the time was 19/100 seconds slower than his FISU winning time, but still good for the 18-year-old with 22.69. Michael Klim took the silver with 22.89 and Brett Hawke the bronze with 22.99. Chris Fydler swam into fourth place with a 23.13.
Rickard's time is the fastest winning time at an Australian Championships.
The fastest qualifier was Richelle Jose, 17, a Pan Pac team member, with a PB of 2:15.36.
In the final, Meredith Smith, coached by Mark Reagan in Canberra at the AIS., lived up to expectations by showing the field a clean pair of heels throughout. Unchallenged throughout the distance she won with 2:14.76.
Emma Johnson, winner of the 400 IM, was second with 2:15.12.
In the prelims Matthew Dunn qualified behind fellow AIS teammate Zane King.
In the final, fly specialist Leon Dunne set the pace for the field, going through the fly leg in 26.06 ahead of Matthew Dunn and Zane King.
Dunn, swimming an improved backstroke technique, took the lead but was challenged by King until the turn into breaststroke. From there, Dunn's two strongest strokes gave him the supremacy over the field to establish new Commonwealth and Australian Records. At 24 years of age, this long-time AIS athlete, like good red wine, continues to improve with age.
After the race, Matt said, "I just kept within myself and swam my own race. I have quite a lot up my sleeve and feel I can now go under the two minute barrier and go to another level with my swimming."
"I had only one hour's sleep last night. My friend Michael Klim came into my room and insisted that we both watch all the TV reports of his world record swim."
"Gennadi has been responsible for my continuing improvement. He's the best coach in the world right now. He knows exactly what I'm thinking without me telling him. He's one step ahead all the all the time. I went through a stage a couple of years where I was only improving by 0.02 seconds per year. Now I'm making decent drops and have made significant improvement this year. The Pan Pac wins were important. The winning of those events was one of our goals this year. Gennadi believes you have to learn to win."
Susan O'Neill, Olympic gold medallist in Atlanta with a PB 2:07.29, had been inspired by the world record by Michael Klim. An improvement on her Atlanta time would be a boost to her motivation and bring her closer to her ultimate goal of Mary T. Meagher's World Record.
In the final, O'Neill went out for a new personal best, but was just a little too fast, being one second ahead of the world-record split at the turn (29.53). Petria Thomas was half a body length behind at this stage.
O'Neill split 1:00.92 at the 100, ahead of world-record pace. The other eight swimmers were now four body lengths behind Thomas, who was second. The early pace was starting to hurt O'Neill, who was 1:34.11 at the 150. Mary T's split was 1:33.69. Petria Thomas was second in 1:36.65.
All eyes were on O'Neill to see if she could at least better her Australian and Commonwealth record of 2:07.29 set at the 1995 Pan Pacific Championships in Atlanta. But the lactate build-up of the first and second 50s was hurting and the muscles would not respond. She touched with a 2:08.09, and Thomas was second with a 2:12.16.
Matt Welsh and Adrian Radley, while they would like to swim in both distances in Perth, could be more relaxed and swim their own races in the knowledge that they were already booked on the plane to cross the Nullabor.
In a bold move to make the team, Steven Dewick went out ahead of the field, leading at the 50 m split with 28.09, but soon faded as Josh Watson took the lead at the 100 in 58.66. Radley was close on his heels with 58.75. Dewick was now in third place.
Watson held the lead at 1:30.15 at 150 m ahead of Radley, 1:31.28. Radley's turn was the better and he showed his fighting spirit to make up the deficit and touch out Watson, 2:01.91 to 2:02.33. Ray Hass, a former South African and now an Australian citizen training at the Australian Institute of Sport, was a close third in 2:02.40.
Of the three fastest qualifiers, not one was an automatic selection for the team at this time, although the selectors may smile on big-time performer in team events, Sarah Ryan.
Rebecca Creedy is an outstanding age-group sprinter at 14 years of age with a PB of 26.43 against Ryan's 26.01. Melanie Dodd returned from Nebraska with a reported 26.47 to her credit. It was expected to be close for team selection.
In the final, age grouper Rebecca Creedy showed maturity beyond her age, living up to the expectations of John Rodgers, a former Olympic coach. She will go to Perth as one of Australia's youngest female swimmers to represent the country this decade. Her winning time was 26.19.
Angela Kennedy, 21, leading at the half way point, swam into second place with 26.31. Sarah Ryan took the bronze with 26.38.
Distance freestyle king Kieren Perkins went into this final with a goal of coming second to Grant Hackett-a new experience for the multiple world record holder. Hackett is hot and was expected to go under the fifteen minute mark by a good margin and gain top world ranking going into the World Championships. Emiliano Brembilla, Italy, may have other ideas.
Splitting 56.18 for the first 100, Grant Hackett led the field until 750 m, with Daniel Kowalski sticking close to his shoulder most of that time. Hackett's splits were:
100 56.18, 200 1:55.85 300 2:56.13 400 3:56.83 500 4:57.95 600 5:58.73 700 7:00.04.
Daniel Kowalski took up the running from 750 m, with Perkins in third place dropping further back. Kowalski's splits to the 1000 were:
800 8:01.23 900 9:02.39 1000 10:03.45
Hackett took the lead from the 1050-m turn and was not challenged again, moving ahead as the race progressed. Perkins by now was in a no-chance place of third at the 1000 in 10:10.04. Grant's splits for the last five hundred metres were:
1100 11:03.43, 1200 12:03.31, 1300 13:03.52, 1400 14:04 1500 15:01.46
An examination of those times supports Hackett's own post-race comments: "I need more experience before I have the confidence to go out faster like Kieren. I should have been five seconds quicker through 800 m. I knew I had heaps left in the tank and was not concerned when Daniel took his share of leading."
Hackett lost about three weeks of training following his illness in Fukuoka and is looking forward now to a full cycle of preparation leading into the World Championships. His time ranks him number two behind Emiliano Brembilla, ITA.
Perkins the vanquished said after the race: "I'm feeling very sore but not upset over staying at home when the World Championships are on in Perth. I will keep training for the Commonwealth Games Trials in about six months time because I love swimming. I love the sport."