Thorpe eases into the 200 meters final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Ian Thorpe backed up from his world record and two Commonwealth Games gold medals on the opening night to cruise into Wednesday's 200-meter freestyle final with

updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Ian Thorpe backed up from his world record and two Commonwealth Games gold medals on the opening night to cruise into Wednesday's 200-meter freestyle final with a relaxed-looking swim in the heats. Thorpe glided to a one body length win in 1 minute, 48.50, ahead of Canadians Mark Johnson (1:50.26) and Brian Johns (1:50.48) in the last heat of the morning session on Day 2. The 19-year-old Aussie set a world mark in the 400 freestyle (3:40.08) and anchored the victorious 4x100 freestyle relay Tuesday in a perfect start for his quest to win seven gold medals here. He wants to match American Mark Spitz' record gold medal haul from the 1972 Olympics. World champion Geoff Huegill set a Commonwealth record in his first swim here, clocking 24.10 seconds in the 50 butterfly heats Wednesday to lead qualifying for the final. His Australian teammate Adam Pine was next in 24.48 and South Africa's Roland Schoeman was third. "I felt really comfortable," said Huegill, who has the world record at 23.44. It was my first swim of the meet and all I wanted to do was get in the water, have a swim and blow the cobwebs away." Canada's Morgan Knabe qualified fastest in the men's 100 breaststroke heats in 1:01.79, just ahead of England's Adam Whiting in heat 3. South Africa's Terrence Parkin was third fastest, winning heat 4 in 1:02.69. The Games record in the women's 100 backstroke fell twice in the morning session, with Australia's Dyana Calub setting the mark at 1:02.06 in the first heat and England's Sarah Price lowering it to 1:01.16 in heat 3. Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry, a surprise gold medallist in the 200 individual medley, was third fastest in 1:02.55. "I just wanted to get out there and swim. I felt really strong," Price said. Jodie Henry of Australia was fastest in the women's 100 freestyle heats in 55.79 and will get lane 4 for the final later Wednesday. Right behind Thorpe in the 200 final will be teammate Grant Hackett, silver medallist in the 400. Hackett, the 1,500 world and Olympic champion, clocked 1:49.22 in heat 2 and Rick Say of Canada wasn't challenged in heat 1 and was timed in 1:49.94. Thorpe hasn't lost a 200 since the Olympic final in 2000, when he was upset by Pieter van den Hoogenband. The Dutchman went on to win the 100-200 double in Sydney. But Thorpe recovered to win the 200-, 400-, and 800-meters at the last world championships in Japan, where he set the world record in each. Since bursting onto the scene with four golds at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games at age 15, Thorpe has collected 11 Olympic or world titles and set 18 world records. The hosts got an opening night world record, too, when England's Zoe Baker clocked 30.57 seconds in a women's 50 meters breaststroke semi-final to erase Penny Heyns' mark. Hers is one of four finals Wednesday. Australia's 100-meters backstroke world champion Matt Welsh lowered his Commonwealth 50-meter backstroke record to 25.86 seconds and was the favourite for Wednesday's final. Welsh is tipped to be the only man likely to beat Thorpe in this meet when his younger teammate attempts the 100 backstroke for the first time in senior international competition. Canada's Riley Janes and South African Gerhard Zandberg qualified second and third fastest behind Welsh. In the other final on the evening programme, defending champion Petria Thomas qualified fastest and was expected to get the first women's gold medal for the Australians. Australia was atop the medal standings after the first five finals, with Justin Norris winning the 200 meters butterfly to lift the gold tally to three. The Australians also collected two silver and two bronze and were followed by England and Zimbabwe with one gold apiece. (AP)