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Lowe And Gandy Join 200 Fly Hunt

Apr 1, 2008  - Craig Lord

Jemma Lowe will remember her 18th birthday for the rest of her life. She was tucked up in a Sheffield hotel bed by nine last night, celebrations for her coming-of-age and for a British record in the 200m butterfly that had rocketed her 48 places up the all-time world rankings to ninth put on hold. It was all worth the dawn chorus this morning: Lowe will race for Britain at the Beijing Games after winning the first serious morning final of her life at Olympic trials.

Just 0.08sec behind Lowe's 2min 07.61sec victory at British Olympic trials at Ponds Forge was Ellen Gandy, 16 and part of a wave of young talent with an eye on London 2012 but a burning ambition of making Beijing a big stepping stone. Where Lowe's 2:06.64 in heats had axed two seconds off the British record and placed her second best in the world this year (early days), Gandy's 2min 07.69 wiped 1.39sec off her own previous best.

'I bet no one in the world went to bed by nine o'clock on their 18th birthday but it was worth it,' said Lowe. 'I broke the British record and that was a great present and now I?m on the Olympic team. It's a massive relief. I can enjoy the rest of the trials even more now and I'm looking forward to seeing where I can take the 100m.' Lowe had raced inside world-record pace at half-way in heats yesterday but set out more modestly in a final containing four teenagers who had raced inside tough Olympic qualifying times in heats.

'I was still feeling it a bit from last night,' said Lowe, coached by Graeme Antwhistle in Stockton, and for whom 20x100m sets averaging 1:05s is par for the course. 'With all the excitement, the time I?d done, my birthday ... and I was a bit nervous this morning ... well, I didn't get much sleep.' It is the lot of all swimmers at these topsy-turvy trials, where evening heats and morning finals reflect conditions in Beijing this summer. Qualifying times have to be set in heats and top two places earned in finals.

Gandy had a slight advantage: she has been living in swimming paradise - Australia - for the past six months, her family having moved to Melbourne, and her body clock is set ahead of itself. Born in Bromley and a pupil of Tony Beckley's squad at Beckenham, Gandy showed promise at 13 when she won five gold medals at the European Youth Olympic festival in 2005. A delighted Gandy said: 'I?m so excited. I just wanted to make the Olympics and here I am.' Her journey there has been helped by close contact with the fastest in the world. 'I've raced Jessicah Schipper (world champion and record holder) ... a lot and that's given me a lot of confidence,' said Gandy, who would race on the eve of her 17th bithday in Beijing if she qualifies for the Olympic final, now a distinct possibility. Lowe's best is now getting down towards a time that could challenge for a medal. 'Its unreal,' she said through a beaming smile after her heats time. 'I'm up there with the fastest in the world - its crazy. I wasn't expecting that time. I could hear my sister screaming and my mum screaming. It was great.'

Francesca Halsall, 18 next week, had hoped to be able to say something similar. But having lost her British record to Caitlin McClatchey in 54.31 in the heats of the 100m freestyle, she struggled to find her rhythm in the final, the national title going to Caitlin McClatchey in 54.58, to 54.81. McClatchey, coached by Ben Titley at Loughborough, looked better than she has in all the time since she claimed two Commonwealth titles in 2006. Her better events are to come, in the 200m and 400m, the 100m an exercise in building speed.

Halsall is the more natural sprinter and her potential is exciting. However, she has lessons to learn -and some of them from McClatchey, who left nothing to chance in heats and was up at the crack of dawn with Titley and teammate Julia Beckett, whose third-place placed her among those in line to race the relay in Beijing.

The race went without Melanie Marshall, former British record holder, and a key player in the Britain 4x100m freestyle relay, was told that she had failed to stand inside the ready room and failed to register. Marshall said: 'I accept full responsibility for what happened. I was waiting outside the room, thought they would notice me but I have to respect the rules. I didn't report so that's that. It was a mistake but I've got my main event this week and I'm motivated more than ever before.'

David Davies opted not to race in the final of the 400m freestyle, his aim in Beijing the 1,500m, for which he was pre-selected for the Games when he won the bronze medal at the world championships a year ago, and the inaugural 10km open water race, for which he must qualify in Seville in May. The way was clear for David Carry and Dean Millwain to become the first two to book tickets to Beijing, with times of 3:49.78 and 3:50.50 respectively.

In the 100m backstroke, Gregor Tait, on 54.22, kept Matthew Clay (54.35) and Marco Loughran (54.57) at bay to secure the second berth for Britain in China. Liam Tancock was pre-selected for the Games when he won the bronze medal at the world championships last year and was not required to race his best event in Sheffield.