IT has been a golden night in the pool for Australia at the Hancock Prospecting 2014 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, with the host country winning four gold, one silver and one bronze medal.
Spurred on by the home crowd the Aussies won gold in the 200m backstroke to Belinda Hocking; the 100m butterfly to Alicia Coutts and then finished the night with two stirring victories in the 4x100m freestyle relays for men and women.
After breaking the world record at the Commonwealth Games last month, the Aussie girls went into the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay as the hot favourites, with team USA determined to push them to the limit.
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Australia’s fastest female Cate Campbell was in the water first, clocking 52.89 to set the tone for the race.
A smooth transition saw London golden girl Brittany Elmslie back in the team for Emma McKeon with the 20-year-old up against the might of Missy Franklin.
Elmslie just held on to Franklin, producing a split of 53.72 to put Australia in front at the halfway mark by just 0.02 of a second.
Relay veteran Melanie Schlanger then produced her fastest 100m of the meet, 52.97, to extend the lead.
An amazing transition by Bronte Campbell, and a 52.88 swim to follow it, brought the Aussies home for gold in 3:32.46 leaving the Americans and the old Pan Pacs record in their wake with Japan taking with the bronze.
“It was pretty cool to be part of that 4 x 100,” Elmslie said.
“The last time I was part of it was 2012 and I’ve have had a few battles over the years but I’m getting back into it and finding my love for swimming again – it’s just really good to be part of a relay.
“Standing behind the blocks with those three other girls, I had lots of confidence. They are all world record holders. I watched them break that record in Glasgow and…it inspired me.”
After the sensational men’s 100m freestyle race last night, the relay promised fireworks and with a pool full of the fastest men in the world, strategy played a big part.
Australia led with Tommaso D’Orsogna who went head-to-head with Michael Phelps and touched fourth behind the USA, Japan and Brazil.
James Magnussen and Nathan Adrian were the two big names swimming the second leg, clocking 47.68 and 47.71 respectively. 2011 World Champion relay swimmer Matt Abood then held his own in the third leg to split 48.23.
With 100 metres to go, no one would have expected to see Brazil in the lead, with nothing separating them from both Australia and the USA.
It came down to the individual champion from this meet, Cameron McEvoy, to secure the gold.
McEvoy charged home in the final 50 metres, clocking 47.60 to leave USA’s anchor Ryan Lochte to collect silver for the USA.
“It’s unreal!” D’Orsogna said of winning gold and getting one-up on the Americans.
“Those guys are fierce competitors when it comes to the relays.
Everybody knows that Team USA is going to bring 100 per cent to every race that they do.
For us we just needed to get in there, not get too overwhelmed by the home crowd but use it to the best of our advantage.
Everyone put in a massive effort –great splits there for all the boys and that’s why we were able to get up tonight.”
Putting the demons of her disappointing Commonwealth Games behind her, Alicia Coutts held off a strong 100m butterfly field to touch for gold.
“I’m just glad to come away with a win tonight,” Coutts said.
“It was a bit of a blow to me mentally, the Commonwealth Games.
My coach told me: ‘You’ve done this a million times, just go out there and do it how you know you’re supposed to…the last 15 metres is the most important of the race and not to breathe the last five strokes so I did that and it paid off on the touch.”
Coutts’ time of 57.64 saw her grab the gold from Olympic silver medallist Lu Ying of China (57.76), with Kendyl Stewart of the USA taking bronze in 57.82.
Emma McKeon was unlucky not to be on the podium, finishing fourth just 0.03 seconds behind Stewart in 57.85.
In the women’s 200m backstroke, the unstoppable duo of Belinda Hocking and Emily Seebohm were at it again.
After winning silver in the women’s 100m backstroke earlier in the meet, Hocking put together the perfect race to win gold in the women’s 200m backstroke.
Hocking touched the wall in 2:07.49 breaking the Pan Pacs record in an exciting finish that saw 100m specialist Emily Seebohm (2:07.61) come out of nowhere in lane 7 to challenge for the win.
“I had no idea!” Hocking said of Seebohm’s late surge.
“I had no idea that Em was there but I knew that she had been swimming well.
She did a very fast time in the 100 so I knew she would be competitive tonight.”
Japan’s Sayaka Akase was in the lead at the half way mark with World and Olympic Champion Missy Franklin just behind. Hocking deployed her trademark back-end speed to mow down Franklin and the rest of the field.
“Missy is one of those people that is an untouchable…that you don’t think you can ever get close to,” Hocking said.
“We have seen this meet that, we are athletes but first and foremost we are humans and it showed that Missy is human and she can be beaten.
But I have gained confidence going into the next two years.”
Elizabeth Beisel took bronze in 2:08.33.
In the corresponding men’s event, Mitch Larkin had a huge task ahead of him with the Japanese pairing of Ryosuke Irie and Kosuke Hagino – ranked one and two in the world – leading the charge, along with the powerhouse US duo Ryan Murphy and Tyler Clary.
Coming into the final 50 metres, there was nothing separating Larkin from Clary and Irie and it even looked like the 21-year-old from Brisbane could pull off a massive upset and take gold.
Not quite nailing the perfect touch, Larkin had to settle for bronze, but his time of 1:55.27 eclipsed what he swam to win gold in Glasgow and was just 0.01 of a second outside his Commonwealth record, which will give the young Aussie confidence heading towards Rio.
Clary was the eventual gold medallist in 1:54.91 with Irie taking silver in 1:55.14. Josh Beaver put in a strong challenge to finish fifth in 1:57.70
In other events…
Women’s 400m Freestyle
After breaking a 25-year-old Pan Pacs record this morning, teenager Katie Ledecky came out and went one better, smashing her own 400m freestyle world record to finish in 3:58.37.
The 17-year-old American was over six seconds ahead of the next best placed athlete – Cierra Runge of the USA who took silver in a time of 4:04.55, ahead of Lauren Boyle of New Zealand who grabbed bronze in 4:05.33
“It’s a great feeling,” Ledecky said of breaking the world record, something she has done four times now. “It never really gets old. I knew I could be right at what I was at Nationals or a little better.”
Bronte Barratt was sixth in 4:10.40 and 16-year-old Alanna Bowles put in a great performance to finish seventh in 4:10.58.
Men’s 400m free
It was a stacked field in the men’s 400m freestyle with defending Pan Pacs Champion Tae Hwan Park of Korea, world number one Ryan Cochrane and Japanese powerhouse Kosuke Hagino all lining up, with Aussies Mack Horton and David McKeon right in the mix.
Both Australians held their own in the race, with nothing separating the field over the eight laps. Horton finished in fifth in 3:46.19 and McKeon was sixth in 3:46.40, both boys just unable to catch the leaders.
The race belonged to Park who snatched the lead at the first 100 and didn’t let it go, clocking 3:43.15. Hagino was second in 3:44.56 and USA’s Connor Jaeger nudged out Cochrane to take bronze in 3:45.31.
Men’s 100m Butterfly
There were no Aussies on the podium but the men’s 100m butterfly had the crowd on their feet, cheering on the best Olympic swimmer of all time – Michael Phelps – as he soared to victory in 51.29.
It was the first international gold for the superstar since announcing his retirement at the conclusion of the London Olympics, and for a moment it looked like he might be beaten to the punch by his teammate Ryan Lochte, who touched in 51.67.
“It feels to be good to be back up there individually,” Phelps said. “It’s been a struggle coming back so I think it’s great for my confidence…to show that I can swim fast. I was able to learn a lot.
I didn’t do it for any other reason than that I wanted to be back – I wanted to be in the pool.”
Australia’s Tommaso D’Orsogna was fourth in 52.67 whilst Gold Coast local Chris Wright was sixth in 52.75.
Tim Phillips of the USA produced the second fastest time of the night, swimming 51.52 to win the B final.