McKeon stamps himself as contender for world title

A year ago, David McKeon burst from obscurity to win the Australian 400 metres freestyle title and secure a berth on the London Olympic team. On Friday night at the national titles, he stamped himself a contender for this year’s world titles in Barcelona when he notched the second-fastest time of the year to defend his title in three minutes, 43.71 seconds. It is behind only Chinese superstar Sun Yang, who leads the world with 3:42.96.

It was a drop of almost three seconds from his previous best and with Beijing gold medallist and London silver medallist Park Tae-Hwan skipping Barcelona, the time has McKeon eyeing a possible medal at the world titles. He said he had worked hard to build his strength since London so that he could take on the bigger bodies of Sun, Park and co. ”I put on a lot more muscle than I had before the Olympics,” McKeon said. ”[I’m] so much stronger, I’d say 100 times stronger than I was.”

McKeon became the first swimmer to qualify for the world championships team, finishing more than two seconds ahead of Jordan Harrison, who qualified for his first long-course national team in 3:45.85.

Thomas Fraser-Holmes, one of the pre-meet favourites, was disqualified when he false-started in his morning heat, bringing back memories of Ian Thorpe’s tumble in the same race in 2004.

Harrison said he realised his training partner’s misfortune had opened an opportunity to snare a berth on the team, which he did by substantially dropping his personal-best and edging out London Olympian Ryan Napoleon (3:46.26.)

”I was so shocked because he [Fraser-Holmes] never breaks in training. He does everything right, so it was just such a shame to see,” Harrison said. ”You never like to see someone of that calibre fall in, it’s like Thorpie all over again. As bad as I felt for Tom, I knew he was faster than me, so seeing him out of the competition really boosted my mindset and I just went fully more aggressive, knowing that I could have a shot of making the team.”

Bronte Barratt added a third 400 freestyle national title to her resume when she comprehensively beat long-time rival Kylie Palmer. Barratt won in 4:03.52, the fastest time in the year so far. Palmer also secured her place on the team.

Olympic silver medallist Christian Sprenger, 27, has set the three fastest times of the year, and was the top qualifier for Saturday night’s 100 breaststroke final with a time of 59.05 seconds. He said he would look to edge towards Cameron van de Burgh’s world record of 58.46, which the South African swam to beat Sprenger in London last year.

Asked if he felt he had developed into a stronger swimmer since London, Sprenger said: ”I finally sort of worked out how to swim breaststroke I think.”

London Olympic bronze medallist Alicia Coutts was the fastest qualifier for Saturday’s 100 butterfly final, winning her semi in 57.93.

Matt Targett says he has made contact with Coutts’ coach and plans to apologise to Australia’s best performer in the London pool for his behaviour towards her at a meet in Perth in January. Targett was reprimanded by Swimming Australia for his conduct and Coutts has been disappointed that he has not apologised to her. ”I asked John Fowlie about a good time to talk to her and that was this morning and [it] hasn’t happened yet. She’s pretty busy, she’s got a lot of races. I don’t want to get in the way. But we will talk,” said Targett, after showing the controversy has not affected his form by posting a sharp time of 23.22 to be top qualifier for Saturday’s 50 butterfly final.