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MacKenzie nudges Wickham's record

4 December 2006

Linda MacKenzie has taken a giant step towards history with a stunning victory in the women’s 400 metre freestyle on the first night of finals at the Telstra Australian Championships at Chandler Aquatic Centre in Brisbane.

It was MacKenzie’s fourth consecutive national 400m crown and if she is able to win the 200m freestyle on Wednesday night - her fourth straight gold in that event too – she will become the first Australian woman in history to claim the middle distance double four years on the trot.

MacKenzie clocked 4:06.79, a personal best by almost two seconds, and until the last five metres looked like she might take down Tracey Wickham’s 28-year-old Commonwealth and Australian record of 4:06.28, the oldest on the books.

Bronte Barratt, 17, was second in 4:08.34 and also qualified for the Melbourne World Championships, as did Grant Hackett and Craig Stevens who finished one-two in the men’s 400m.

But the night belonged to MacKenzie, the tiny toiler from Mackay in North Queensland who trains at the AIS in Canberra.

Barratt had taken the field out in 58.89 to MacKenzie’s 59.65 but by the 200m the gap was just 0.09 in Barratt’s favour as the youngster turned in 2:01.65, but that was the last time she led.

MacKenzie normally wins with her now trademark withering last lap but she pulled away to lead by 0.4 at the 300m (3:04.71) before powering through the last two laps to stop the clock in the fifth quickest time anywhere in the world this year to make her the 17th fastest swimmer in history for the event.

Apart from Wickham no other Australian woman had ever swum under 4:08 until tonight and it is only a matter of time before MacKenzie, and indeed Barratt, erase what has been an incredibly durable record from the history books.

MacKenzie was unaware she was swimming so well.

“I didn’t think I was going that fast and I was just trying to concentrate on my own race,” MacKenzie said. “I’ve been training hard through training, trying to get the pace right to go under 4:08 and so I’m really pleased with the time but I had no idea it was that fast.

“That’d be great if I could get it (Wickham’s record) at the World Championships but I’ve just got to keep training hard and try to improve my times in the 400 which I did just tonight and I was really happy with that.”

Hackett clocked 3:46.00 to mark his first Australian long course title since shoulder surgery last November, but the world champion was pushed all the way by Stevens who slashed more than a second off his personal best to hit the wall in 3:46.66.

Hackett had been expected to street the field but Stevens had other ideas and was within a second of the Australian Team Captain the whole way, even clawing a tenth of a second from Hackett over the last lap.

After the race a circumspect Hackett said he thought he would swim a bit faster but he was happy to get his first event in the books.

“I expected to get up there and swim a lot faster but it’s nice to get the first one under my belt,” Hackett said.

“It was harder than I thought considering how easy I felt this morning (3:47.16), I’m surprised I was only able to drop that small margin but its back to the drawing board to see what’s happening and get ready for the rest of my races.”

Hackett’s time was the fourth fastest set in the world this year, 1.73 slower than the number one ranking, a 3:44.27 swum by American Klete Keller at the USA Nationals in August. Stevens’ time ranks him fifth in the world and was also well under the 3:50.21 required to automatically qualify for the World Championships.

Swimming Australia

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