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Stevens finds top form in France

8 June 2006

Craig Stevens has continued his international swimming renaissance in the second leg of the Mare Nostrum Series with victory in the 400 metre freestyle in Canet, France.

The win was Stevens’ second of the European tour following his come from behind performance to snatch the 200m freestyle in Monaco last weekend.

On another great day for the Australian contingent Stevens claimed one of six gold medals for the 26-member team with Leisel Jones (twice), Libby Lenton, Tayliah Zimmer and rookie Nick D’Arcy also saluting the judge against tough, mostly European, competition.

Conditions at the outdoor pool in the beautiful beachside town on the Mediteranean Sea were more akin to a holiday but Stevens has shown on this tour that he is here for anything but.

Having taken an extended break from the pool following the 2004 Athens Olympics, before initially missing selection for the Commonwealth Games, Stevens has knuckled down to some old fashioned hard work and is now approaching the consistent good form that saw him ranked fifth in the world in 2003.

Stevens finished fifth in the 400m when finally earned a berth at the Commonwealth Games following training partner Ian Thorpe’s withdrawal but today he clocked 3:50.26 to turn the tables on Scotland’s Commonwealth Games champion David Carry (3:50.38).

Also in Stevens’ wake was French champion Nicolas Rostoucher (3:50.80) and Romanian Dragos Coman, who had defeated Stevens to win the 400m freestyle in Monaco on Sunday.

It was the 25-year-old’s best time since the 2004 Olympic Team Selection Trials where he infamously finished second to Grant Hackett in Ian Thorpe’s absence before selflessly giving up his spot allowing Thorpe to win Olympic gold.

Contrary to some media reports the Australian Team has not rested for the Mare Nostrum Series and Stevens in particular has continued a solid training load since the team left home.

“Our swimmers are in a competitive phase of their training programs right now and have not rested at all for this meet,” Australian National Head Coach Alan Thompson said.

“Some of the guys are in different places of their season’s preparation than others but Craig is someone who has really worked well in recent months and continues to here.”

Jones continued her unbeaten run on tour with her fourth and fifth victories in the 50m (30.86) and 200m (2:24.99) breaststroke events respectively, again producing times that would be right in the thick of the action at any international meet in history.

AIS-based Western Australian Sally Foster was third in the 50m (31.90) and second in the 200m (2:28.51).

Lenton (54.69) also picked up her fifth gold medal of the series, holding off team mate Jodie Henry (55.23) to take out the 100m freestyle, after finishing second to Swedish veteran Therese Alshammar in the 50m butterfly in 26.45.

Zimmer continued her good form and won the 100m backstroke for the second time in the series, clocking 1:01.78, with her training partner, Commonwealth Games champion Sophie Edington, fifth in 1:03.26.

The final victory for the Australian’s was an international career first for D’Arcy as the 19-year-old posted 1:58.07 and defeated Romanian Ioan Gherghel (1:58.88) and team mate Travis Nederpelt (1:59.06).

Christian Sprenger and Jim Piper both won silver medals with times of 28.74 and 2:14.68 in the 50 and 200m breaststroke events respectively while Eamon Sullivan (50.26) was third in the 100m freestyle, as was Felicity Galvez (2:10.60) in the 200m butterfly.

Overall Thompson was happy with his troops, noting that the conditions and competition was more testing than those faced in Monaco.

The Canet leg of the Mare Nostrum Series concludes tomorrow with the final meeting in Barcelona at the weekend.

Swimming Australia

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