With no Ian Thorpe at the Australian trials this year, Australian swimming must have hoped that someone would stand up and make a story to keep up the profile of the event. They needn’t have worried as Australia’s women turned it on, posting some hugely impressive swims, and on the men’s side Grant Hackett took full advantage of the Thorpedo’s absence, winning the 200/400/800/1500 quadruple. And just for good measure there was also the return of Michael Klim, still one of the Australian public’s favourites, to near top form.
So no Athens hangover for the man from Miami, as Hackett brushed aside all of his domestic rivals with consummate ease in the middle and long distance freestyle. But he also asserted his dominance over his international competitors as well; at a time when David Davies was struggling towards qualification in the 1500, Hackett was setting an Australian All Comers record of 14:44.94, just over a second outside his gold medal winning time from Athens and posting the fourth fastest time ever in the 800m freestyle. He also raced close to his personal bests over two and four hundred metres and will be a strong favourite in Montreal, although he will not swim the 200m, leaving young guns Nicolas Sprenger and Patrick Murphy to carry the flag. Behind him though a slight lack of depth in Australian talent emerged, with his nearest challenger in the distance events the Canadian record holder Kurtis MacGillivary, recently naturalised as an Australian citizen and also on the plane to Montreal.
Klim’s re-emergence is a triumph of self belief and persistence over adversity. Following three years of operations and rehabilitation on his shoulders, back and ankle, he now seems to have found a spark again and raced to wins in the 100m freestyle and butterfly. His winning time in the freestyle of 49.02 was his fastest swim since the 2000 Olympics and we should expect him to go faster this summer. In the 50m events, it was Klim teammate Brett Hawke who took the plaudits winning both fly and freestyle sprints and looking very sharp.
Other men to impress were the breaststroke double act of Brenton Rickard and Jim Piper. Rickard lowered the Australian Records in both the 50m and 100m events, dipping under 61 seconds for the first time in the longer event, while Piper was only 7 one hundredths of second outside Ian Edmond’s Commonwealth Record in the 200m event.
And so to the women, where there were fireworks in many events. The undoubted star was Alice Mills, who fully emerged from the shadows of her more celebrated team mates Jodie Henry and Libby Lenton, taking the 50 and 100m freestyle double, the former in a new Commonwealth record time that catapulted her to third on the all time rankings. The 100m final was a classic as Lenton went out like a shot, turning in 25.68, but failing to really make the break she needed from her rivals. She began to tire moving though 75m and Olympic champion Henry started to make her move, but neither was ready for the finishing burst that Mills applied as she swept though from third to first in the closing 20m of the race, winning in 53.96. That made her only the 5th woman ever to dip under 54 seconds and given that two of the others were in adjacent lanes, Australia’s relay team will again be the one to beat in Montreal, where the world record must surely go.
Mills though had to settle for third in the 100m butterfly, despite setting a big personal best and moving in to the world top 4 rankings, as Lenton and Athens Olympian Jessica Schipper dead heated for the title in 58.18 Mills was just 0.09s behind in 58.27.
Giaan Rooney set two Australian records in the 50m and 100m, backstroke events, the former also a Commonwealth record, as she held off the challenge of a series of teenagers eager to knock her off the top of the domestic tree. Rooney was up to the challenge though, recording a swift 38.45 for the one lap event, just 0.2s outside Sandra Volker’s world record. She had to be content with silver in the 200m event though as relative newcomer Tayliah Zimmer took the title.
Elsewhere, in the women’s events, Leisel Jones regained her 100m breaststroke title from Brooke Hanson with a swift 1:07.24 and also took the 200m event, while Jade Edmistone came very close to Zoe Baker’s world record over 50m posting an Australian Record of 30.74 in her semi final. Hanson meanwhile took the 200m IM title and announced her intention to place more emphasis on that event this year.