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Commonwealth Games 2002: Swimming: Thorpe cruises to five as he homes in on medal target; The teenage star enjoyed a hectic night in Manchester, reports Neil Silver.

Byline: Neil Silver

Ian Thorpe made it five down, two to go, as he struck gold in the 100 metres freestyle last night.

The Australian swimming phenomenon - who is turning the Manchester Commonwealth Games into his very own Golden Jubilee - set another Games record as he cruised to victory in a personal best time of 48.73 seconds, beating the 48.81 he set in the semi-finals.

In claiming yet another impressive victory, Thorpe beat his haul of four gold medals he won in the last Commonwealth games in Kuala Lumpur four years ago, when he was just 15-years-old.

It was a busy night for the 'Thorpedo' as, after collecting his latest gold medal, he was straight back in the pool for the first semi-final of the 100m backstroke.

For a split second we wondered if Thorpe's efforts in the previous final had taken a little too much out of him, as he reached the turn in fifth place, which would have meant him crashing out of the competition.

But he stepped up a gear in the final 30 metres and touched down as the winner in a time of 56.49.

So with five gold medals now under his belt, or rather under his neck, 19-year-old Thorpe has two more gongs in his sights.

Tonight he chases that 100m backstroke title, which is perhaps the one race in which he faces serious competition.

Matt Welsh, the Australian champion, was faster than Thorpe in the heats and will be aiming to prevent his compatriot from leaving Manchester with a 100 per cent record of seven out of seven titles.

Welsh, 25, who is aiming to make up for the disappointment of being disqualified from the 200m backstroke, went in the second semi-final last night, and was the comfortable winner in a time of 55.91, again faster than his main rival.

It might be a dangerous thing to provoke Thorpe, but there was an air of confidence and a touch of the mind games from Welsh which sets up a mouth-watering final.

He said: 'That was a swim just to secure lane four in the final, that's what everyone wants. I thought about going faster, but the race before was slower, so that was all that was necessary.' In the end, Thorpe qualified for the final as only the fourth fastest, which means he will have to swim in one of the outer lanes, something he is unaccustomed to.

There was a feather in the swimming cap for Scotland's Gregor Tait, who was third fastest qualifier in 56.32. Two Englishmen, Adam Ruckwood and Martin Harris, also made it into the final.

Thorpe's final target to complete the magnificent seven will then be the 4x100m medley relay on Sunday night. His victory last night added to his titles this week in the 200 and 400m freestyle, plus 4x100 and 4x200m freestyle relays.

Meanwhile, England's Matt Kidd narrowly missed out on a medal as he came fourth behind Thorpe in the 100m final in 49.99 seconds.

The 22-year-old from Leatherhead said: 'I'm disappointed with that swim - I've been behind my goals since the semis.'

CAPTION(S):

Australian phenomenon Ian Thorpe competes in the men's 100m backstroke last night, just moments after collecting his 100m freestyle gold, his fifth title of the games
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Aug 3, 2002
Words:552
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