Gold for Abood at World Championships

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Sydney University Sports Scholarship holder Matt Abood swam the race of his life to help Australia win gold in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the World Championships in Shanghai on Sunday.

Abood clocked 47.92sec for the third leg – following a blistering lead-out from James Magnussen of 47.49, and a fine second leg from Matt Targett of 47.87 – to keep the Australians in the lead.

Eamon Sullivan made sure of the gold with a 47.72 final leg as the Australians posted 3:11.00 to edge out France (3:11.14) and the Michael-Phelps-led United States (3:11.96). The winning time is the fastest by any quartet wearing textile-only suits.

The Australian sprinters ended a decade-long drought in the 4x100m freestyle, having not won a major international 4x100m freestyle title since the 2001 world championships in Fukuoka. They now have their sights on a first Olympic 100m freestyle relay gold since the win in Sydney 2000, led by Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim. 

As reports, there was a faint strain of smashing guitars audible as the sprint relay came to a crashing, thudding, rattling finish, Australia’s Eamon Sullivan, the two Matts, Abood and Targett, and a young gun built to break his blocks, James Magnussen, whistled ahead of the favourites to take the crown for only the second time in history ahead of the French and an American quartet that goes down as one of only three of 14 not to take gold since the championships were born in 1973.

“Lead-off James Magnussen had the better of Michael Phelps 47.49 (the gauntlet laid for the solo battle) to 48.08, with Olympic champion Alain Bernard on 48.75, before Matt Targett took it on for the Dolphins with a 47.87, against 47.78 for Jeremy Stravius and American Garrett Weber-Gale’s 48.33,” SwimNews said.

“Next up, Matt Abood was the third Australian inside 48sec, on 47.92, good enough to keep a 47.39 from William Meynard, of France, at bay, Jason Lezak – the American who kept alive Phelp’s golden eight in Beijing by crushing Bernard with an all-time (in a suit now banned) fastest relay split of 46.06 on the way to the relay gold – on 48.15.

“Up until then, South Africans, Graeme Moore (48.15), Darian Townsend (47.76) and Gideon Lowe (47.91) had fought among the top three and confined the USA to fourth with one man (newcomer Leith Shankland, set for a 49.56) to go.

“By then, Gaul’s fastest gun of the season, Fabien Gilot, had left his blocks in chase of Eamon Sullivan, the Olympic silver medallist whose form was talked down this year when two 19-year-olds, Magnussen and James Roberts, up in the stands, got the better of him at Aussie trials in the 100m solo. Whoever called it for Sullivan – turned out to be a good one: a 47.72 did not match Gilot’s 47.22 but the damage had been done and the gatekeeper kept the intruder at bay by 0.14sec, Australia taking gold in 3:11.00. The USA, brought home by Nathan Adrian on 47.40, kept Italy’s Filippo Magnini (47.31) at bay, 3:11.96 to 3:12.39, with Russia, South African, Germany and Britain following on.

“Phelps was a 15-year-old with a huge future ahead of him when Ian Thorpe and Co played air guitar on deck at Sydney 2000 after defeating the USA. Defeat one year out from London 2012 may be just what the doctor ordered, he indicated:  “It’s frustrating. As we all said after the race, it’s not how we want to start it (the championships). We know what we have to do to get back, and we all said standing up on the podium it’s clearly not the spot we want to be in. So this is really going to be a motivation.”

But as said, the Australians, with age on their side, speedy and youthful reserves up in the stands and Thorpe away preparing for battle, could get mightier still by next year’s Olympics. “Thorpe has one of the best 100m relay splits ever, a 47.20 from 2002,” SwimNews said.