Hackett swims into record books

Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2005


  Australia's Grant Hackett reacts as he sets a world record with a time of 7:38.65 in the men's 800-meter freestyle, beating the record previously set by his compatriot Ian Thorpe at the World Aquatics Championships Wednesday, July 27, 2005 in Montreal. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Australia's Grant Hackett reacts as he sets a world record with a time of 7:38.65 in the men's 800-meter freestyle, beating the record previously set by his compatriot Ian Thorpe at the World Aquatics Championships Wednesday, July 27, 2005 in Montreal.

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

MONTREAL — Grant Hackett is used to swimming in the shadow of others. First, Kieren Perkins. Then, Ian Thorpe. Now, Michael Phelps.

It's time to give the big Aussie his due.

Hackett bumped off one of the sport's most enduring world records Wednesday night, leaving everyone else in his wake on his way to eclipsing Thorpe's mark in the 800-meter freestyle.

Even Phelps was impressed.

''Congratulations,'' Phelps told Hackett when the two ran into each other in the massage area. ''That was great to watch.''

Indeed, it was. The 6-foot-6 Hackett claimed his second gold and third medal of the World Swimming Championships with a time of 7 minutes, 38.65 seconds, breaking the mark set four years ago by his countryman Thorpe.

Hackett was more than five seconds under Thorpe's pace at 600 meters, but it got tight at the end.

When Hackett touched the wall, his head popped out the water and he turned to look at the scoreboard. ''Yeah!'' he screamed upon seeing the time — 51-hundredths of a second under Thorpe's record of 7:39.16.

Appropriately, Hackett held aloft his right index finger.

No. 1.

''That was a fast world record, and Ian is one of the greatest swimmers of all time,'' Hackett said. ''Any record is great, but to get one of Ian's records is a little more satisfying.''

When Hackett was coming along, Perkins was the icon of Australian distance swimming. As Perkins faded away, Thorpe emerged as the sport's dominant figure. Then it was Phelps, taking on the role with his six-gold, eight-medal performance at the Athens Olympics.

Through it all, Hackett keeps plugging along. He holds world records in both the 800 — a non-Olympic event — and 1,500 freestyle. He's the most prolific medal winner in meet history.

''I feel I've done enough to prove myself,'' said Hackett, savoring his 15th world championship medal — two more than anyone else. ''It's more personally satisfying than anything else.''

Phelps had his busiest day of the championships, swimming four times to qualify for the finals of the 100 free and 200 individual medley.

''It's pretty much downhill from here,'' Phelps said. ''I have a morning to sleep in, then let loose tomorrow night.''

The 20-year-old American is on pace to win seven medals, but Hackett isn't done, either. The 1,500 is his signature event and he'll anchor the Aussies in the 800 free relay, expected to be a spirited battle with Phelps and his U.S. teammates.

Phelps is used to being the biggest thing at the pool, a once-in-a-generation swimmer who can do amazing things every time he dives in. It began with the 2003 championships in Barcelona and continued through the Athens Olympics last summer.

That's why it was so stunning when he failed to qualify Sunday for the final of the 400 freestyle, where he had hoped to challenge Hackett.

Phelps' coach has yet to figure it out.

''It seems like he's normal,'' Bob Bowman said. ''I don't know what the hell the problem was Sunday.''

A few hours after his flop, Phelps led off an impressive American victory in the 400 free relay. On Tuesday, he held off Hackett in the 200 free, capturing a second gold and breaking the American record in the process.

''If we ever wanted to know about his character, I think it showed the last 48 hours,'' Bowman said. ''It was good to deal with something like that.''

On Wednesday, Phelps got through two preliminary swims in the morning and two semifinal races in the evening. He heads to the finals as the top qualifier in the 200 IM and fifth-fastest in the 100 free.

''Things are going much better than they did the first day,'' he said. ''I seem to be improving throughout the meet, so I can't complain right now.''

But, as Bowman pointed out, Phelps can't keep outdoing himself. He's got to slow down a bit, try new things, prepare himself to be at his best three years from now in Beijing.

''If you look at his linear progression, it pretty much goes like this,'' Bowman said, moving his right hand steadily upward. ''I don't think he can be up all the time. He can't do it every year until 2008.''

With that in mind, Phelps dropped the 400 IM and 200 butterfly for this meet, even though he was the world record holder, defending Olympic champion and virtually assured of victories in both. He substituted the 100 and 400 free, looking to stay motivated and give himself a few more options before the Beijing Games.

The 400 didn't work out.

The 100? Stay tuned.

On a damp, rainy night at Parc Jean-Drapeau, Pawel Korzeniowski of Poland took advantage of Phelps' absence in the 200 fly to win the gold. His time of 1:55.02 was more than a second off the American's world record.

Thirty-five-year-old Mark Warneke of Germany became the oldest swimmer to win a world championship, winning the 50 breaststroke in 27.63, holding off American Mark Gangloff and Japanese Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima. Warneke had just missed a medal at the last world championships, finishing fourth in the 50 breast.

Solenne Figues of France captured gold in the women's 200 freestyle, winning in 1:58.60. Italy's Federica Pelligrini was second, while Yang Yu of China and Josefin Lillhage of Sweden shared the bronze.

But Hackett was the star, swimming alone against the clock and his place in history.

Larsen Jensen of the U.S. was nearly seven seconds behind in second place, while Russia's Yuri Prilukov settled for the bronze.

''It felt like,'' Hackett said, ''a perfectly swam race.''

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