The start of the session was delayed by 15 minutes tonight, but all that did was give the crowd even more time to work themselves into even more of a frenzy as the atmosphere turned electric. The sense of anticipation as they waited for another 5 titles to be decided was incredible, and the crowd were not disappointed with the swimming on offer.
In the first final of the evening, Petria Thomas put her disappointments from the first night behind her and dominated the field from the first stroke to come home for the gold in a games record of 26.66. She still has a possible 6 more golds to contest and few would bet against her adding the other two butterfly titles to this one. The minor placings were close all the way between the second Aussie Nicole Irving, Scotland’s Alison Sheppard and England’s Ros Brett. Irving got the nod in the last 5 m though and took the silver, whilst Sheppard spotted her finish better then Brett to touch first for the bronze. Sheppard will be pleased with a medal in what is not her best event, the 50m free later in the week being her main aim, as will the Scotland team who have already doubled their solitary medal won in Kuala Lumpur.
The men’s 50m back looked, for 49m, as though it might provide the second major upset of the games as the little known Alex Lim of Malaysia started like a bullet to lead hot favourites Matt Welsh and Riley Janes by a significant margin after 25m. He held his form well into the last 5m whilst Welsh closed him down. In the end it came down to the last stroke and the Australian reached out a long arm to snatch the gold by just 2/100 of a second. Behind these two, Janes was locked in his own battle for the bronze with Gerhard Zandberg of South Africa. Zandberg came out of that one on top to take South Africa’s second medal of the games. England’s Martin Harris improved his position to finish 7th
The hottest favourite of the evening, hotter even than Ian Thorpe, then took to the deck in shape of Zoe Baker. Having set a World record in the semi final, all eyes were on her to see if she could do it again. She did not disappoint, taking the gold with a clear margin of almost a body length from second placed Sarah Poewe of South Africa in a time just 0.03 outside her own record, but still well under the previous mark. But this was not about the time but the medal. Tarnee White of Australia came in third with England’s other representative Kate Haywood improving by one spot to come in 7th, but the race was all about Baker. She is clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the Commonwealth and it will be interesting to see whether Sweden’s short course world record holder Emma Igelstrom, currently competing in the European Championships in Berlin, can rise to Baker’s new challenge later this week.
Ian Thorpe started the 200 freestyle final as the man to beat and unsurprisingly no-one managed to do that, despite Grant Hackett’s best efforts. The world record holder and world champion was in imperious form, leading from the start to take his 3rd gold medal, leaving Hackett the bridesmaid yet again. The time was 0.6 over his world record at 1.44.66, and was a games record, but was ultimately immaterial. Rick Say of Canada took the bronze with England’s Jamie Salter in fourth. David Carry of Scotland did brilliantly to make the final and performed admirably, finishing 8th.
England had high hopes of getting three swimmers into the final from the 100 breaststroke semis and they were fully realised. Adam Whitehead, with a new longer stroke, started things in great style recording a 61.05 PB and breaking the 12-year-old games record to clearly win the heat. The time would have been under the British record but for Darren Mew and James Gibson’s exploits at the English trials. They went in the second semi and although they couldn’t match Whitehead’s pace they came in first and second ahead of big rival Morgan Knabe of Canada. The English men go into the final 1st 2nd and 3rd, but don’t discount Knabe, Aussie Jim Piper and South Africa’s Terence Parkin who will all challenge for medals. Not to be outdone, the ladies almost achieved the same feat in the 100m backstroke, Sarah Price leading Jo Fargus into the final. Price had set a Commonwealth record in the heats and lowered it again by 0.02 s in the semi final wining easily. Sexton came through to 6th in her semi to just miss out on a final spot. Dyana Calub of Australia came though first from the first semi, just pipping Fargus, but was well down on Price, being nearly a whole second slower. English medals are definitely on the cards tomorrow and it is hard to see who can challenge Barnet’s Price for the gold.
Elsewhere, the Men’s 50 fly semis gave Mark Foster the chance to banish any doubts over his seemingly lacklustre heats swim but he did anything but, scraping into the final in 7th place. He will have hopes of being an outside smoker in tomorrow’s final but will need to get going much faster than he did in either race today. Aussies Adam Pine and Brett Hawke led the qualifiers from the first semi, but world record holder Geoff Heugill, sporting a new crop of hair, was the fastest man into the final setting a new games record in the second race. South Africa’s Roland Schoemann came off his amazing relay anchor leg last night to also make the final whilst Cameron Black set a new Scottish record coming third in the first semi to qualify eighth. The women’s 100m freestyle semis reunited Karen’s Pickering and Legg as they aimed to make their second finals. They both did that, Pickering coming in joint second with Alison Sheppard in her race, behind Sarah Ryan of Australia who must be one of the favourites. Legg, swimming in the second semi with team-mate Melanie Marshall, saw another favourite, Jodie Henry of Australia, at first hand as Henry won the race in a fast 55.43 from Legg who recorded her first time under 56s. Marshall also qualified for the final, which could go any way. With 3 English and one Scot in the final there will be a great chance of home medals and an intriguing prospect later in the week in the women’s freestyle relays.
Tonight’s session also saw the first Elite Athletes with a Disability event, with the Women’s 50m freestyle multi-disability final. The highest profile swimmer was undoubtedly Nathalie du Toit of South Africa, who had qualified fastest with a world record in the S9 classification. There was a delay while the final result was calculated, but the ultimate winner was du Toit who swam close to her new record, but underneath the record from the beginning of the week, which was the target. Du Toit will be back in the 800m free. Canadians Stephanie Dixon and Danielle Campo took the other two medals. England’s Elaine Barrett finished 5th and Scotland’s Lara Ferguson came 6th.