It’s arguably the most prestigious race in Australia’s rich history in Olympic swimming, and Melbourne Vicentre’s Mack Horton looks set to make his own mark in the 1500m freestyle in Rio.
In front of a capacity crowd at the SA Aquatic and Leisure Centre, Horton swam at world record pace for much of his 30 inspiring laps, finishing in a new Australian All-Comers record of 14:39.54.
In the end he was 8.52 seconds shy of the world mark of 14:312.02 set by China’s Sun Yang.
And the final race of the 2016 Hancock Prospecting Australian Championships saw second placegetter Jack McLoughlin (Chandler, QLD) produce a barnstorming performance to clock a 24-second pb of 14:48.60 to claim the final place on the Australian Olympic Swim Team. Thirty-four strong team named for Rio.
“It was faster than I thought it was going to be,” Horton said.
“I got to about 800 and it started to hurt a little bit – at 1000 I was like this is pretty rough right now but then everyone started telling me to go a bit quicker so I thought I must be dropping off a lot. But then I turned around and saw 14:39 and it was pretty crazy.
Not just a personal best, the time lifted Horton to number two on the Australian All Time rankings, surpassing dual gold medallist Kieren Perkins and sitting him just behind another dual gold medallist Grant Hackett.
The time would have won gold at the 2015 World Championships, ahead of Horton’s Italian training partner Gregorio Paltrinieri who was first in 14:39.67.
“Gregorio sent me a message the other day and said, I really want you to go under 14:40 because you deserve it. But not faster than my PB so you have to be between 14:39.7 and 14:40 – and I swam 14:39.5, so he’s not going to be very happy with me!”
But the surprise packet of the night was 21-year-old McLoughlin qualifying him for his debut Olympic Games and like Horton, his time would have placed him on the World Championships podium in front of third placed Ryan Cochrane (Canada).
The 21-year-old University student, who started swimming at Nudgee Brothers when he was three realised a life-long dream when he was the last man added to the 2016 team.
“The past year or so I have been training full-time for the 1500m and I knew I could drop big time but to go under 14:50 I’m just stoked,” said McLoughlin.
“I don’t know where that came from. I knew I could do 14:57. Every time I went to bed over the past month I kept muttering in my over in my head, I can… I can… I can.
“My team mates Dave McKeon and Jess Ashwood have been so good and so encouraging, every afternoon doing what they do and they never said if you make the team it was always when you make the team.”
Yet more records fell victim to the might of Cate Campbell on the final day of competition, with the 23-year-old adding the 50m freestyle to her Rio Olympic program, winning the fast final in a new Commonwealth and Australian record time of 23.84.
“To still be doing PBs at my age is very encouraging and I couldn’t be more thrilled with that,” said Campbell who was selected for her third Olympic Games.”
Campbell’s continued improvement over the one-lap dash is down to consistency she says, having had the ability to train without the interruption of injury or illness.
Along with sister Bronte Campbell who also qualified in the 50m tonight in 24.24, Cate will swim the sprint double in Rio - but she won’t favour one race over the other.
“It would be like having to choose between your children,” she said jokingly.
“I am going to concentrate on all my swims there. I am not going to put all my eggs in one basket and think – it’s the hundred or nothing – or it’s the 50 or nothing. I qualified for both of them and I am going to give my best at both.”
Australia’s best male freestyle sprinters were in action again, with a time trial of the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay.
After the men finished 13th at the World Championships last year in a time of 3:16.34, Swimming Australia have held off selecting a relay team until an internationally competitive time had been posted. Despite it being the end of a jam-packed week of racing, the team was more than competitive.
James Roberts (48.63), Kyle Chalmers (48.24), James Magnussen (48.17) and Cameron McEvoy (47.22) combined to clock 3:12.26 – a time that would have won them bronze at last year’s World Championships behind France and Russia.
“We are all really happy,” Roberts said.
“To have the entire final team get up and race then, I think it is great. The depth in Australia is really good. Us four guys – we couldn’t be happier with that after a big week of racing. Especially Cam, who has done a lot of racing so far, so we are really happy with that.”
With the entire gold medal winning relay team from Sydney 2000 watching on from the stands, the future certainly looks bright for the future of relay swimming in Australia.
The final night of competition also gave the Australian Para-swimmers a chance to show their skills in the pool one last time, with two 4 x 50m relays starting the session. The relays placed athletes together in order to gain relay experience and practice changeovers at race pace in front of a large crowd.
The first relay saw the combination of Sean Russo, Blake Cochrane, Timothy Hodge and Guy Harrison-Murray emerge victorious in 1:48.00 while the second relay winners were Katja Dedekind, Maddison Elliott, Ashleigh McConnell and Taylor Corry in 2:02.36.
The session and the Championships closed with exciting club medley relays, with home favourites Marion taking the men’s title in 3:37.13. With a team packed with four athletes heading to Rio, St Peters Western dominated the women’s event winning in a new club record time of 3:57.34.
Women’s 50m Freestyle
1. Cate Campbell (Commercial, QLD) 23.84 CR AR
2. Bronte Campbell (Commercial, QLD) 24.24
3. Shayna Jack (Commercial, QLD) 24.95
Men’s 4 x 100m Freestyle Time Trial
1. Australia A: James Roberts, Kyle Chalmers, James Magnussen, Cameron McEvoy 3:12.26
2. Australia B: Kenneth To, Matthew Abood, William Stockwell, Jack Gerrard 3:14.45
Men’s 1500m Freestyle
1. Mack Horton (Melbourne Vicentre, VIC) 14:39.54 Aust All-Comers Rec
2. Jack McLoughlin (Chandler, QLD) 14:48.60
3. Jordan Harrison (Miami, QLD) 15:18.92
Women’s 4 x 100m Medley Club Relay
1. St Peters Western, QLD: Madison Wilson, Georgia Bohl, Madeline Groves, Emma McKeon 3:57.34
2. Brisbane Grammar, QLD: Minna Atherton, Aisling Scott, Brittany Elmslie, Emily Seebohm 4:04.09
3. Melbourne Vicentre, VIC: Hayley Baker, Kotuku Ngawati, Christina Licciardi, Sian Whittaker 4:06.28
Men’s 4 x 100m Medley Club Relay
1. Marion, SA: Ben Edmonds, Joshua Palmer, Kyle Chalmers, Andrew Abood 3:37.13
2. Trinity Grammar, NSW: James Traiforos, Matthew Treloar, Daniel Tranter, Kenneth To 3:39.12
3. TSS Aquatics, QLD: Joshua Palmer, Grayson Bell, David Morgan, Buster Sykes 3:41.78
Para AUS Relays 4 x 50m
1. Australia E: Sean Russo, Blake Cochrane, Timothy Hodge, Guy Harrison-Murray 1:48.00
2. Australia A: Liam Schluter, Matthew Levy, Liam Bekric, Rowan Crothers 1:48.44
3. Australia C: Timothy Disken, Jesse Aungles, Matthew Stark, Joshua Alford 1:49.10
Para AUS Relays 4 x 50m
1. Australia A: Katja Dedekind, Maddison Elliott, Ashleigh McConnell, Taylor Corry 2:02.36
2. Australia C: Prue Watt, Madeleine Scott, Monique Murphy, Jenna Jones 2:04.66
3. Australia B: Emily Beecroft, Lakeisha Patterson, Paige Leonhardt, Ellie Cole 2:06.06