Queensland teenagers Ariarne Titmus and Laura Taylor stole the show on night one of the Hancock Prospecting Australian Swimming Trials at the Optus Aquatic Centre on the Gold Coast tonight.
Titmus, the 17-year-old swimming captain at St Peters Western Lutheran College, started the night like a comet – breaking through the A qualifying time in the 200m freestyle in a new personal best time of 1:55.76.
And towards the end of the night the raw emotion of 18-year-old Southport girl Taylor told another story of a youngster born and bred on the Gold Coast who gate crashed her way past two Olympic medallists to win the 200m butterfly – and a spot on her first major team.
Taylor shattered her own personal best time and swam her way into the Australian All-Time top ten with a world class time of 2:06.80.
Both girls knew they had a big race on their hands with Australia’s multi-talented all-rounder Emma McKeon (Griffith University) finishing second in both finals in what was always going to be a tough double in the 200m freestyle (1:56.57) and the 200m butterfly (2:08.80).
But McKeon will secure places on the team and she was relieved to have day one over so she can now concentrate on her 100s – the freestyle tomorrow and the butterfly on Friday.
USC Spartans duo Leah Neale (1:57.68) and Mikkayla Sheridan (1:57.96) both dug deep to finish third and fourth in the 200m freestyle with Olympic finalist Brianna Throssell (UWA West Coast) a fast finishing third in the 200m butterfly in 2:08.11 – Commonwealth Games spots almost certainly assured.
Titmus, whose family left Launceston two years ago to chase their dreams in Queensland, was first to secure her place on the team in the opening event.
The 200m freestyle was the first of three swims for Titmus who will line up in the 400m tomorrow and then the 800m on Friday.
“It’s exciting, I’ve got a lot more speed now and it means I can go out harder and it won’t hurt as much so that’s a good thing,” said Titmus, who was determined to do it for her coach Dean Boxall, who had been unwell this week.
“Dean has been really crook, I didn’t know whether he would even be here tonight but he came down from Brisbane which was great.
“It was exciting that he was here tonight to see the race but if he wasn’t I knew I’d done the training and I was going to swim for him.”
Taylor touched the wall to win the 200m butterfly and the tears flowed – a release of raw emotion of a girl who has worked “so hard” and realised a dream come true in front of her family and friends – a true hometown hero.
The third 50metres in a 200m can often be the championship lap and for Taylor, that’s the way it played out.
"When I pushed off the 100 (metre) turn and I was with the girls, I reckoned I could drop them, then at the fourth 50 (metres) I paid for it. It really hurt, but it won me the race,” Taylor said.
The Northcliffe lifesaver admitted she was so overwhelmed, so happy for it to be over.
“I've got a pretty easy week now; I'm happy to get the 200 metres out of the way, that was probably the most nervous I had been for a race,” she said, admitting there was room to work on for the Games.
In the 100m backstroke finals it was swimming’s power couple Emily Seebohm (Brisbane Grammar) and Mitch Larkin (SPW) who both secured A qualifying times.
Seebohm who went under the A qualifying standard in 59.15 to secure a place on her third Commonwealth Games team with Hayley Baker (Melbourne Vicentre) now under coach Tracey Menzies securing second place in 59.95 ahead of 16-year-old Kaylee McKeown (USC Spartans) 1:00.09 both under the B time.
Meanwhile dual world champion and St Peters Western prodigal son Larkin announced his return to form with a convincing win in the men’s 100m backstroke.
The 24-year-old stopped the clock in 53.57 to take the win in a Commonwealth games A-qualifying time ahead of a fast finishing Bradley Woodward (54.24, Mingara) and Ben Treffers (54.40, Somerset).
For Larkin last year was a learning curve, changing coaches and struggling to get into groove. Making the move back to St Peters Western, this time under the guidance of Dean Boxall, Larkin said the key to his success tonight was learning to trust himself.
"The plan is to really find my groove and to build my strength from there. Tonight was a really good swim. I'd like to go quicker and I know I can,” said Larkin.
Silver medallist Woodward was a surprise packet of the night with the Adam Kable coached 20-year-old sneaking into second place just over the A-qualifying time after posting a 54.24 with his fate now in the hands of selectors.
Woodward’s SOPAC teammate Matthew Wilson also impressed on the first night of finals with the 2017 World Championships debutant hitting the wall in a new personal best time of 2:08.31, dipping under the A-qualifying time and putting his hand up for Commonwealth Games selection on Saturday night.
“I'm stoked with that. I don't think it was the best swim, but just getting on to the team is a big honour for me," Wilson said.
"I've been thinking about these Commonwealth Games probably since the last Commonwealth Games. I've really wanted to be here, it's going to be a massive crowd, so it's been in my head for the last four years now."
"It's been a lot of hard work and a few ups and downs, with a few holes I've had to get myself out of, but it's good to be in the team."
Wilson was too strong for is fellow competitors, touching over two seconds clear, with Zac Stubblety-Cook (2:10.64) and George Harley (2:10.82) rounding out the top three.
The men’s 200m was anyone’s for the taking and with various race strategies at play, the lead was never held for long. It was Olympic gold medallist Kyle Chalmers though who upset his fellow Rio Olympic gold medallist mate Mack Horton to steal the win at the wall and turn the tables on the 2017 results with a time of 1:46.49.
"Honestly, it is the best feeling I've had in quite a while, it has been a hard 12 months. To get back racing on the national stage, and to get my first long-course title, means so much to me,” Chalmers’ said.
After ‘accidentally’ claiming the title in 2017, Olympic gold medallist Horton almost repeated history but had to settle for silver in 1:46.76.
With the top time from this morning’s heats, local Bond University swimmer Alex Graham (1:47.13) snuck ahead of his training partner Elijah Winnington (1:47.28) to bag the bronze, followed by St Peters Western’s Clyde Lewis (1:48.20) and Griffith’s David McKeon (1:48.40).
The men’s 200m butterfly saw a blanket finish as eight men flew down the final 50 metres, searching desperately for selection. It was TSS Aquatics’ David Morgan who broke away from the pack to take first place in 1:56.73, narrowly missing an A-qualifying time but securing his place at the top of the podium.
In the women’s 200m breaststroke it was defending Commonwealth Games champion Taylor McKeown (USC Spartans) who touched the wall in a B qualifying time of 2:23.87 ahead of fast finishing Tessa Wallace (Pelican Waters Caloundra) 2:24.41 and Georgia Bohl (Griffith University) 2:25.52.
Hancock Prospecting Australian Swimming Trials – The Selection of the Australian Swimming Team - #AusTrials2018
Proudly supported by Tourism and Events Queensland
When: February 28-March 3
Where: Optus Aquatic Centre
Heats: 11am – Livestreamed at https://www.swimming.org.au/LIVE-streaming.aspx
Finals: 7:15 – on Network Seven - Check local guides for details