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Australia’s McKeon eyes Tokyo sprint gold after edging Campbell

ADELAIDE: Emma McKeon reacts after winning the women’s 100m butterfly final during day one of the Australian Olympic swimming trials on June 12, 2021. – AFP

ADELAIDE: Emma McKeon reinforced her status as a gold medal favorite in the 100m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics yesterday, scorching to victory ahead of veteran Cate Campbell in the Australian trials. The 27-year-old, who won four medals at the 2016 Rio Games, made a statement in the morning heats at Adelaide with a blistering 52.19secs, the world’s best this year, and touched in 52.35 to win the final.

She now owns the world’s three fastest times of 2021 as she zeroes in on the 51.71 world record set by Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom four years ago. Campbell was second in 52.59 to book her spot at a fourth Olympics. Australia has such depth in the sprints that Madi Wilson and Meg Harris also went under 53 seconds, boding well as they target a hat-trick of gold medals in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.

China’s Zhang Yufei is the only other swimmer to dip under the milestone this year. “I’m been pretty happy with how I’ve been swimming this week,” said McKeon, who has also qualified in the 200m freestyle, where she won bronze in 2016, and the 100m butterfly. She will attempt to add a fourth event when she contests the 50m freestyle today, the final day of the six-day meet. “Obviously this is the trials not the Olympics and that’s where the pressure is and my focus is now just on the Olympics in five weeks,” she added.

Campbell, who was the hot favourite in Rio only to finish sixth, said she was ecstatic at making a fourth Olympics as she strives to add to her five-medal haul. “Relief is the presiding emotion right now,” she said. “I dreamt of going to the Olympics since I was nine years old, most people get to do it once in their life and here I am nearly 30 years old and going to my fourth. It’s honestly a dream come true.”

Mitch Larkin also qualified in the 200m medley, having made the agonizing decision to ditch his signature 200m backstroke event, where he won gold at the 2015 world championships and silver in Rio. Those two events are scheduled back-to-back on the Olympic program, and he decided it would be too demanding to attempt both. He comfortably qualified in 1:56.29, second only to Britain’s Duncan Scott (1:55.90) this year.

Japan’s world champion Daiya Seto is also shaping as a key rival as Larkin attempts to win Australia’s first ever medal, of any colour, in the event. “I’m pretty happy with that, I didn’t really know what to expect tonight, I just went out there racing and attacked all four strokes,” said Larkin, who will be at his third Olympics and has also qualified in the 100m backstroke.

“The lungs were burning with 75 to go but I just kept my head down. When you’re going for a spot in Tokyo you dig a little deeper.” In his absence, Tristan Hollard swam a 1:56.44 to book his seat in the 200m backstroke. Elsewhere, Jenna Strauch clinched the women’s 200m breaststroke in 2:23.12 to make the team along with Abbey Harkin (2:23.59). Both swam personal bests to get there. “I’m just so glad Abbey qualified with me, we’ve been on this journey together,” said Strauch, with both women set for their first Olympics. – AFP


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