Seven-time Olympic medalist Grant Hackett made the Australian team for the World Swimming Championships this summer after a six-year retirement.
Hackett, 34, finished fourth in the 200m freestyle at the Australian Championships. That earned a spot on the Australian 4x200m freestyle relay team at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August.
Hackett last raced internationally at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, where he earned silver in the 1500m free and bronze as part of the 4x200m free relay.
On Sunday, Hackett finished behind Cameron McEvoy, David McKeon and Thomas Fraser-Holmes in the Australian Championships 200m free final.
“I by no means expected it,” Hackett said in a poolside interview. “It didn’t really feel like I executed everything that well.”
He swam .01 slower than Fraser-Holmes. In August, Fraser-Holmes won the 200m free at the biggest international meet of the year at the Pan Pacific Championships, topping Ryan Lochte and the world’s best all-around swimmer, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino.
“It’s like one of the biggest achievements of my life to make that team after such a long amount of time off – and in only such a short preparation,” Hackett said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
No Australian male swimmer has won individual Olympic gold since Hackett captured the 1500m free at the Athens 2004 Olympics. He and Ian Thorpe are the only Aussie men to take individual Olympic gold in the last four Olympics. Thorpe failed in his comeback attempt for the London 2012 Olympics, after a four-year retirement.
Hackett could become the oldest Australian Olympic swimmer by three years if he makes the Rio 2016 team, according to sports-reference.com.
He struggled with domestic disputes and sleeping-pill addiction since retiring following the Beijing Olympics, spending time last year in a U.S. rehab facility.
Hackett returned to swim training last summer, later saying he was inspired by a conversation with Michael Phelps in August.
“Michael said, ‘You should swim again,’ and it was the first time that I felt like I wanted to get back in the water,’’ Hackett said, according to The Australian.
Two other swimmers posted notable results in the 200m free final.
The winner McEvoy clocked a time that would have won last year’s Pan Pacific Championships. McEvoy, a physics buff, did win last year’s Pan Pacific Championships 100m free, upsetting World champion James Magnussen and Olympic champion Nathan Adrian. McEvoy could be looking at a five-medal haul at the World Championships, including the three men’s relays (perhaps more if including mixed-gender relays).
Then there’s Dan Smith, who finished in fifth, which should earn him a place in the World Championships relay in the preliminary heats. Smith, a former 14-year-old prodigy compared to Thorpe a decade ago, came back from heroin addiction.
In other events, five-time 2012 Olympic medalist Alicia Coutts failed to qualify for the World Championships team in the 100m butterfly. She’s the two-time reigning World silver medalist in the event. Australian media reported Coutts, 27, may retire. Coutts’ five medals at London 2012 were the most by an Australian in any sport at an Olympics since Thorpe took five at Sydney 2000.
Christian Sprenger finished second in the 100m breaststroke, which he won at the 2013 World Championships. But Sprenger’s time failed to meet Australian criteria to be named to a World Championships team. He could still be a discretionary selection, but the 29-year-old may also retire.
“I have some decisions to make in the next few months, I suppose,” Sprenger said, according to the Australian Associated Press.