Reigning champion Jones qualifies for 4th Olympics

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By JOHN PYE, Associated Press

ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Beijing gold medalist Leisel Jones became the first Australian swimmer to qualify for four Olympics when she finished second in the 100-meter breaststroke final Saturday night on a program expected to be dominated by Ian Thorpe's bid for a spot in London.

In the race immediately after the 200-meter freestyle final that Thorpe stunningly failed to reach, Jones made the Olympic squad again despite surrendering her national title to training partner Leiston Pickett.

Jones had won 11 of the previous 12 Australian titles in the 100 breaststroke but was hampered by a virus and never led Pickett, who won in 1 minutes, 6.88 seconds and will be going to her first Olympics.

Jones was next in 1:07.64, well behind her personal best of 1:05.09 — a time she'll need to swim to compete with world champion Rebecca Soni of the United States.

"Mission accomplished. Leiston is champion, well done. Love you, girl. I'm so excited to bring you along," Jones said. "I'm so excited. I did put a lot of pressure on myself, but I've done that job tonight and I'm pretty stoked with that. It's a lot of pressure going into a meet when you've got people already thinking you're going to London."

Now there's speculation the 26-year-old swimmer will be the flagbearer for Australia at the opening ceremony, an honor she said she'd love.

"A lot of people have done three Olympics, but to be the first Australian swimmer to have done four, I'm pretty happy with that — that's something pretty incredible," she said. "It has been a long slog. This is absolutely without a doubt the hardest Olympics to make."

Jones also won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics at 15, the youngest Australian to win an Olympic swimming medal. In all, Jones has eight Olympic medals, including three gold.

"I didn't think I'd ever make it to four Olympics. ... That's just an absolute dream," she said.

Thorpe, a five-time Olympic champion, retired in 2006 but started a comeback last year with an eye on the Olympics. He didn't get close to making the 200 freestyle final. His last chance to qualify now is in the 100, with heats starting Sunday.

In his absence, 20-year-old Thomas Fraser-Holmes won the 200 in 1:46.88 from Kenrick Monk (1:57.16), who was cleared to represent Australia by avoiding criminal charges last year after lying to police.

Fraser-Holmes had already qualified by winning the 400 individual medley and was happy to bring his training partner along in the 200.

He said the absence of Thorpe didn't detract from the final: "Everyone wants to make a name for themselves."

"To see Kenrick in the team, he's had a rough couple of months." Fraser-Holmes added. "To his credit, he's made it."

Last September, Monk broke an elbow when he fell from a skateboard, later telling police he had been hit by a car. He withdrew the claim days later and publicly apologized, saying he had been too embarrassed to tell the truth. He received a warning from police, a rebuke from Swimming Australia and scathing public criticism.

On Saturday night, the 24-year-old Monk received a big cheer from the crowd.

Other swimmers securing spots in the Australian squad were Emily Seebohm and Belinda Hocking in the women's 100 backstroke and Hayden Stoeckel and Daniel Arnamnart in the men's 100 backstroke.

Nick D'Arcy, who was excluded from Australia's squad for the Beijing Olympics while he was facing criminal charges for assaulting swimmer Simon Cowley, moved closer to a spot on the team when he qualified fastest for Sunday's 200 butterfly final.

D'Arcy, one of the few people in the last decade to beat Michael Phelps in the event, has been cleared by the Australian Olympic Committee to compete in London if he meets the swimming qualifying criteria.

Stephanie Rice, the golden girl of the Beijing Olympics where she won the 200 and 400 individual medleys and the 4x200 relay, swam in the 200 freestyle and 200 IM semifinals Saturday night, two days after being the first to qualify for Australia's squad for London by winning the 400 IM title.

Despite pain in her right shoulder resulting from an operation last year, she led qualifiers into the 200 IM final, edging Seebohm and world championship silver medalist Alicia Coutts. In the 200 freestyle, she qualified second for the final behind Bronte Barratt.

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