Source: The Sunday Tasmanian, 25 March, 2001, p.52

Oh, just so close

By Wayne Smith

No one else would ever doubt him, but Ian Thorpe last night breathed a sigh of relief when he all but duplicated his Olympic best when he just missed his own 400m freestyle world record at the Australian championships.

In winning his fourth straight Australian 400m title, the first swimmer to do so since John Konrads finished his run in 1961, Thorpe showed yet again he is a swimmer for the ages.

But he is also very much the swimmer of the moment after unleashing an astonishing 3m40.76s performance at the Hobart Aquatic Centre, a miniscule 0.17s outside the world record he set in the Olympic Pool at Homebush last September, when he won the first of his three Olympic gold medals.

"I was pleased to swim close to a "pb" [personal best], pleased I'm back to near where I was at the Olympic games," said Thorpe.

"It is a relief. There's always a question mark in your mind. I knew I had trained well in my preparation, knew that things were going well but until you stand up on the blocks, you're never 100 per cent sure."

Unlike at the Olympics when he took the race out in a frenzied rush, this time he swam with cool control, steadily building into the race -- all part of his deliberate policy of exploring new tactics, new ways of swimming faster.

"You've got to think outside the square. Otherwise you'll never improve. For me, this way is better than the way I swam at the Olympics. This is the way I'll continue to swim the race," he said.

The question on everyone's mind -- Thorpe's included -- is what last night's swim portends for his new events, the 800m freestyle, the heats of which he will swim today.

"I've no idea how to do an 800m," he said.

Initially last night, it seemed the Hobart crowd would not have anything special from Thorpe to cheer about. Indeed, archrival Grant Hackett actually led through the first 100m, and Thorpe had regained the lead by the halfway mark, he was at the point 1.26s behind the world record schedule he set at the Olympics.

It was not until he turned at the 300m mark in 2:24.56, less than half-a-second outside world record pace, that the crowd ignited, cheering on the Sydney 18-year-old as he raised the tempo of his thunderous six-beat kick.

It might have seemed to some that Hackett, who placed second in 3:45.46, had swam a mediocre race, yet his time would have won him the bronze at the Olympics -- some consolation for the 20-year-old Queenslander who inexplicably lost his speed at the start of the Games last year.

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