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Sam Short grew up idolising Grant Hackett and was as surprised as anyone this week when he bettered the Australian legend’s personal best in the 400 metres freestyle.
But it is the event synonymous with Australian swimming success – the men’s 1500m freestyle – in which Short says he really wants to make his mark as his rapid rise continues.
Little more than a year out from the Paris Olympics, Short could be Australia’s left-field bolter for a medal if he continues to improve at his current rate.
“I wanted to put some good times up and show everyone I mean business this year,” Short said.
A 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle specialist, Short came into this week’s Australian Swimming Championships having churned out 60 kilometres in the pool last week.
Despite not tapering for this event, which is the norm for elite swimmers, the 19-year-old was told to give it his all and see what times he could post in the midst of a heavy training block.
Sam Short after winning the men’s 1500m final at the Australian Swimming Championships.Credit: Getty
Remarkably, with no expectations, Short recorded a personal best in the 400m freestyle final. His winning time of three minutes, 42.46 seconds was almost two seconds quicker than at last year’s Australian championships.
It was not only faster than Hackett’s best, but the 10th quickest time in history and just over two seconds outside Ian Thorpe’s 21-year-old Australian record (3:40.08).
No one has swum faster this year.
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” Short said. “I haven’t looked at my phone, I know I’d get too excited. It’s been a big 48 hours. I didn’t get much sleep at all [after the 400m final]. It’s amazing. [Hackett] did it 20 years ago. He’s one of Australia’s best athletes ever.”
When Australians think of the 1500m freestyle, names such as Hackett, Kieren Perkins, John Konrads and Murray Rose spring to mind. Australia has a rich Olympic history in the event.
Short is a self-confessed “swimming nerd”. Every fact and figure about the 1500m, Short is up to speed on it.
Grant Hackett at the Sydney 2000 Games. Credit: Craig Golding
He would be well aware that Ireland’s Daniel Wiffen has the fastest 1500m freestyle time this year (14:34.91).
Short’s personal best in the 30-lap event is 14:48.54, which he set during last year’s gold medal-winning swim at the Commonwealth Games.
His first sub-15 minute time in Birmingham was all the more impressive given he still had 20 stitches in his back after a melanoma was removed.
In comments that should excite Australian swimming fans, Short believes he can go much quicker, having broken 15 minutes again on Tuesday night.
He is eyeing Hackett’s Australian record of 14:34.56. A gold medal in Paris might be a stretch, but 15 months is a long time in swimming.
“I reckon with a taper and swimming with other Europeans, I feel like I can definitely get towards that sub-14:40 mark,” Short said. “I really wanted to swim well at this meet. There’s been some really fast swimming internationally; I wanted to throw my hat in the ring.
“I’ve watched them my whole life. If there’s a statistic, I know it. I know pretty much all the stats through the age groups. I look at the all-time rankings and see where I am. That’s been a big motivation for me. They’re my idols.
“I want to be a good 400, 800 and 1500 swimmer. That’s where my passion is for swimming. I love the grit you need in that.”
After a big sleep-in on Wednesday morning, Short banged out another personal best – this time by six seconds – to win the 800 freestyle and make it a trifecta of wins on the Gold Coast. His time of 7:42.96s is the second fastest in the world this year.
“I try to tell myself not to be a coward,” Short said. “If I go 3:42, I’ve got to push the first 400. A six-second PB … I’ll take it.”
Meanwhile, Ariarne Titmus fell just short of the four-minute mark in the women’s 400m final but says she isn’t worried two months out from the Australian trials.
The reigning Olympic champion said earlier this month there was “fire in the belly” after watching Canadian Summer McIntosh take her world record.
Earlier this week, Titmus said her goal was to break the four-minute barrier, despite overcoming illness and being in a heavy training block. Her time of 4:00.49 was well outside her personal best of 3:56.40s.
“I’m not disappointed,” Titmus said. “I’m not going to worry. I know I have time. If I was under four minutes, it would have given me an extra confidence boost. I had a good crack. I have eight weeks until trials. I have time to do a lot of work. ”
Elsewhere, Matt Temple edged out Kyle Chalmers and Cody Simpson in the men’s 100m butterfly final.
Temple (51.49 seconds) was well clear of Chalmers (52.09) who finished in fourth place. Simpson, who has a personal best of 51.78, touched in eighth place (53.48). He’ll need to be much quicker at the Australian trials in June, if he is to make the national team for the World Aquatics Championships in July.
Chalmers will feature in his favoured 100m freestyle event on the final night of competition on Thursday.
The surprise of the night came from Kaylee McKeown, a two-time world record holder in backstroke events, who triumphed in the 200m breaststroke.
Watch the Australian Swimming Championships live and free on 9Now.
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