MELBOURNE - The 1998 Australian Championships (April 27 to May 2) doubled as the Commonwealth Games trials and were held in the new Aquatic Centre on the shore of Albert Park Lake. One of the most modern centres in the world, it features all the facilities including training, recreation, wave pool, teaching, fitness, and rehabilitation.
An extremely busy competition schedule over the past seven months left some swimmers with little spark and enthusiasm. With a few exceptions, the men's events overshadowed the women's events.
Coach Gennadi Touretski is looking forward to getting his charges into a regular training routine with less competition than last year. Klim had one hundred races in 1997 as part of his preparation for the World Championships.
Of Klim's second placings in two finals prior to the 100 free, Touretski said, "It is not a good idea to read too much into trials results. To be a champion is to be an ambassador. Michael Klim is an ambassador."
Touretski said Klim welcomed challengers. "This is all good for swimming, which is a major sport in Australia. It's like ballet in Russia; it's part of the culture."
Head Coach Don Talbot was more concerned and sent a message to the Olympic Committee suggesting that they provide counselling for athletes to help them handle success. Don used a quote from Sylvester Stallone to illustrate his point: "Everyone showed me how to cope with failure when I had the arse out of my pants, but when I was successful I went crazy. Nobody showed me how to deal with it."
The 200 freestyle was the swim of the meet with the wonderkid of world freestyle, Ian Thorpe, swimming to a new Commonwealth record and beating out world champion Michael Klim. Thorpe's time of 1:47.24 was a world best for a 15-year-old swimmer, and a Commonwealth and Australian record.
Klim had the lead until the final length, ahead of the world-record pace, finishing second with 1:47.77. Daniel Kowalski was third with 1:49.32, and Matthew Dunn was fourth in 1:49.45.
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The depth in this event tempted Coach Talbot to consider a shot at the world record for 4x200 freestyle relay. But as the meet progressed, swimmers such as Klim and Kowalski showed that they were tired and the idea was abandoned.
Thorpe, now dubbed "Thorpedo" by the media, scored his second victory in the 400 free with 3:46.47, touching ahead of fellow teenager Grant Hackett. World silver medallist Hackett clocked 3:47.15. Kieren Perkins did not swim the final.
Of the 1500, Daniel Kowalski said after the prelims, "This 1500 is going to be three races in one. I'm going to try and go under the 15-minute mark. Grant, as the world champion, is going out to consolidate his position as champion, and Kieren has to race to make the team."
Grant Hackett did swim a sub-15-minute time again with a 14:56.23 - a solid effort considering it was within two weeks of a sinus operation. He is still the only swimmer under 15 minutes this year. Ever the bridesmaid, Kowalski was second and was disappointed with his time of 15:06.89. Kieren Perkins was third with 15:12.23 and made the team bound for Kuala Lumpur in September. Talbot had set the qualifying time at 15:18.00.
Matt Welsh, Australia's best 100 backstroker in Perth with 55.45, could not place better than fourth in the 100 at these trials with a 56.64. His 200 swim placed him second but did not earn him selection. After recovering from influenza, Adrian Radley recorded a 56.46 to take the sprint backstroke from former South African Ray Hass (56.53). World Championship team member Josh Watson won the 200 in 2:01.64. Only event winners were selected to the Commonwealth Team, an indication of the poor standard.
Ryan Mitchell surprised teammate Phil Rogers and their coach Glenn Beringen by winning the 100 breaststroke in 1.02.16, a personal best by 1.31 seconds.
Mitchell had until now focussed on the 200. Rogers, 27, an Olympic medallist and eight-time national champion in this event, was a close runner-up in 1:02.18. Simon Cowley was third in 1:02.60. The 17-year-old Cowley, winner of the breaststroke double at last year's nationals, managed to keep his 200 crown in 2:15.22; a fast-finishing Rogers was only one hundredth of a second back. Mitchell was third with 2:15.81.
As he discovered in the 200 freestyle, Klim realized again that there is someone who will pounce if you are not 100% ready for a race. He was beaten in the 100 fly by Geoff Huegill (53.20 to 53.51). Adam Pine was third in 53.77, also earning a spot on the Commonwealth team.
"I know I was not ready and the work has not been done," said Klim afterward. "Perth was a big strain on me emotionally. I was not motivated tonight. Geoff is a great butterflyer and he has given me a challenge which I accept."
"Skippy" Huegill, an "adopted" son of Coach Ken Wood, was not suffering from any post-world championship letdown: "I took a couple of weeks off after Perth and competed in some World Cup racing. I'm motivated and ready to race."
The 200 fly is now a problem event with the no-show by Commonwealth record holder and Atlanta bronze medallist Scott Goodman. In what appeared to be a deliberate act not to take part in the race Goodman was disqualified for false starting in the A Final in Perth. He has not yet and may never resume training - a sad blow for Australian swimming.
The 200 fly gold medal went to former 200 freestyler William Kirby in 2:00.32, the only winning time not under 2:00.00 at a national championships since 1991. Greg Shaw was second in 2:00.52, followed by Zane King with 2:00.92. Shaw will not go to Malaysia. King was selected for the IM's.
In a surprise move before the 400 IM, the long-reigning champion Matt Dunn announced that he would not swim the event at the Commonwealth Games. He plans to concentrate on the 4x200 freestyle relay. It has long been a difficult double as the two events are separated only by one women's race at the Games. If Australia sets a new world record in the relay, Dunn wants to be part of it.
The 400 IM was won in a relatively slow time of 4:22.20 by Zane King, with Trent Steed second in 4:23.50. Third place went to Robert van der Zant with 4:23.70.
The standard in the 200 was higher with Matt Dunn recording a 2:01.41, not quite his best but a time that would have placed him second in Perth. Robert van der Zant, coached by brother Ric at Yeronga Park in Queensland, took the silver in 2:03.36. Mark Regan swam 2:03.53 for the bronze.
Susan O'Neill was female swimmer of the meet. She had wins in the 100 and 200 in both freestyle and butterfly. She was second in the 400 freestyle to Julia Greville, a finalist in this event in Perth. O'Neill and Petria Thomas had close battles in the 100 and 200 fly events. Her winning times for the four events were:
Emily Pedrazzini won the 800 free with 8:45.48 and was third in the 400 free in 4:15.91.
Dyana Calub won her first nationals in the 100 back with 1.03.08, recently joining Greg Salter at Kingscliffe on the north coast of New South Wales. She also won the 50 back in 29.80.
Meredith Smith left the meet to have a knee operation, but only after winning the 200 backstroke in 2:14.84.
Helen Denman and Samantha Riley tied for first place in the 100 breaststroke, each with a time of 1:09.21.
In the 200 breaststroke there was a lot of interest in the comeback bid by world record-holder Rebecca Brown. But in finishing a disappointing third she did not make the cut. Riley won the 200 in 2:28.66 over Caroline Hildreth's 2.29.91, with Brown third in 2:30.96.
Anna Windsor, who attends the University of Nebraska, won the 200 I.M. A first-time winner of the event, Windsor swims for the Ryde Club at home under Greg McWhirter, who also coached the 400 IM winner Nadine Neumann. Windsor will also swim on the freestyle relays after finishing third in the 200 free.
Jennifer Reilly, a 14-year-old from Roger Bruce's squad at Victoria Park in Perth, is a bright spot on the horizon for women's IM swimming in Australia. Reilly has improved from a 4:58.33 in January to 4:48.17, putting her second to Neumann's 4:46.77.
National Coach Don Talbot will hold a training camp in Melbourne after a one-week rest following trials to ensure that all get back on track for the Commonwealth Games.