Paralympic swim world records tumble at Australian championships

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thirteen world records were broken by disability swimmers at this week's Australian Swimming Championships in Adelaide, which also acts as the national selection trials for the forthcoming London Olympics and Paralympics.

Seven of the records were in freestyle events, three in breaststroke, two in butterfly, and one in backstroke. The week also marked a changing of the guard in Australian swimming, with a handful of Olympic champions coming out of retirement, but with the exception of Libby Trickett, failing to qualify.

Five swimmers set seven freestyle world records between them. Matthew Cowdrey broke the S9 50m and 100m records, with times of 25.66s and 55.20s respectively. In the 100m he was beaten by Daniel Fox who set a record in the S14 class with a time of 54.38s. The 50m race also saw a second record fall, with Mitchell Kilduff setting the new mark of 24.84s in the S14 class. Brenden Hall now holds the S9 400m record, with a winning time of 4:14.67. Jacqui Freney won the women's 100m in a time of 68.03s, an S8 record. Kayla Clarke took the 50m event in 28.66s, an S14 record.

In the other strokes, three swimmers set six world records between them. Blake Cochrane dominated the men's breaststroke, winning both the 50m and 100m, and setting records for his S8 class of 36.73s, and 79.06s. Tim Antalfy set S13 records in two disciplines, winning the 50m backstroke in 28.20s, then twice breaking the 100m butterfly record (55.31s in the preliminaries then 54.92s in the final), beating his nearest competitor by over six seconds. Prue Watt capped the record breaking run on the final night of competition, setting the women's S13 50m breaststroke mark at 36.27s.

For national championships, disabled events are combined into "multi class" races which include competitors with a range of disabilities. They compete according to a point scoring system, with their performance measured against the world record for their classification. Thus not only have these swimmers qualified for London and written their names into the record books, they have also raised the bar for themselves in future competitions.

Ian Thorpe - Australia's most prolific Olympic gold medal winner - failed to qualify for the London Olympics after his return from retirement
Image: xiaming.

In the able-bodied championships, all eyes were on the ex-champions attempting to return to the top level from retirement. Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim, and Geoff Huegill all missed qualification. Responding to their disappointments: Thorpe intends to continue swimming; Klim announced his retirement; and Huegill will discuss his options with his family. Libby Trickett scraped into the 4x100m relay team, placing fifth in the women's 100m final.

A new generation will take national titles with them to their first Olympic competition. James Magnussen will be a serious contender in two individual and two relay events, after winning both the 50m and 100m freestyle. David McKeon won the 400m and 800m freestyle. Thomas Fraser-Holmes took the 200m freestyle and 400m individual medley, and Daniel Tranter took the 200m medley. Mitch Larkin secured the 200m backstroke title. Chris Wright won the 50m and 100m butterfly. Nick D'Arcy, winner of the 200m butterfly, now has a chance at Olympic redemption. He was originally selected for Beijing, but was kicked off the team for assaulting a fellow team-member.

Three women have also booked their Olympic debut wearing the mantle of national champion. Alice Tait won the 50m butterfly title. Tessa Wallace won the women's 200m breaststroke, relegating Leisel Jones, a former world record holder and world champion in the event, to fourth. Leiston Pickett edged out Jones to take the 100m breaststroke title.

Many of Australia's top performers from the Beijing Olympics have secured a place on the team heading to London. Among the women, Stephanie Rice, Jessicah Schipper, Alicia Coutts, Emily Seebohm, Kylie Palmer, Bronte Barratt, Cate Campbell, Melissa Gorman, Belinda Hocking, and Melanie Schlanger all booked their trip with wins this week. Although Jones missed out on Olympic selection in the 200m, second place in the 100m was enough to secure a berth to her fourth Olympic Games.

In the men's events, Olympic silver medallists Brenton Rickard, Christian Sprenger, Hayden Stoeckel, Eamon Sullivan, and Matthew Targett will all get another shot at gold. Kenrick Monk missed out on the finals of the 200m freestyle in Beijing, but will contest the event again in London.

Two national title winners did not qualify for the Olympics. Jarrod Poort won the men's 1500m freestyle, but finished outside the Olympic qualifying time. Benjamin Treffers won the mens 50m backstroke, which is not on the Olympic program.

After the meet, Swimming Australia named the Olympic team. Along with those mentioned above, the men on the team are Daniel Arnamnart, Tommaso D'Orsogna, Jayden Hadler, Matson Lawson, Cameron McEvoy, Ned McKendry, Ryan Napoleon, and James Roberts. Completing the team for the women are Olympic newcomers Jessica Ashwood, Bronte Campbell (Cate's sister), Brittany Elmslie, Blair Evans, Samantha Hamill, Yolane Kukla, and Jade Neilsen, and veterans Angie Bainbridge, Sally Foster and Meagen Nay.

The Paralympic team has not yet been announced. Alongside the record-setters, favourites for Games selection include disability class winners Ellie Cole, Michael Anderson, Grant Patterson, Taylor Corry, Esther Overton, Maddison Elliott, Katherine Downie, Matthew Levy, Rick Pendleton, Amanda Fowler, and Sarah Rose. Ahmed Kelly, abandoned as a baby with severe deformities in an Iraqi orphanage, and rescued by an Australian charity, qualified in the 50m breaststroke.

The eight day meet was held during the period March 15-22 at the SA Aquatic and Leisure Centre, in Oakland's Park, South Australia. It was run by Swimming Australia, with Energy Australia as the principal sponsor.