(Adds Thorpe quotes, recasts)
* Thorpe fails to make 200 freestyle final
* Fellow comeback hopeful Trickett also fails in 100 butterfly
By Ian Ransom
ADELAIDE, March 16 (Reuters) - Ian Thorpe’s hopes of competing in a third Olympic Games lay in jeopardy on Friday after he crashed out of the 200 metres freestyle semi-finals at Australia’s swimming championships, leaving him “gutted” and casting a pall over the national trials.
Thorpe, whose rushed comeback bid after five years out of the pool has captivated the Australian public, charged out of the blocks but flagged dramatically in the final lap to finish sixth in his semi-final and 12th overall to miss the final.
The five-times Olympic champion had earlier teased a thrilled crowd at the South Australia Aquatic and Leisure Centre by qualifying equal fifth fastest into the semi-finals after a solid swim in his morning heat.
After the semi-final, though, the silence was deafening as he emerged crestfallen for a poolside interview.
“The fairytale has turned into a nightmare. I’ll hear about it tomorrow,” he said, shell-shocked by the pool.
“I guess what I‘m probably most disappointed about, I was really pleased with my race this morning,” he later told reporters.
”I swam the race really well this morning, with a lot of control, felt that I’d progress not only tonight, but into the final tomorrow evening. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
“After the race when I experienced that kind of silence I felt not only the disappointment for myself, but the disappointment for other people as well.”
The 29-year-old’s time of one minute 49.91 seconds was more than two seconds behind pace-setter Ryan Napoleon and five seconds adrift of his personal best set in 2001.
It leaves Thorpe with a mammoth task to book a ticket to London, with the 100 freestyle - his last-chance saloon - boasting an ultra-competitive field including world champion James Magnussen and the other members of the gold-medal-winning relay team from last year’s world championships in Shanghai.
“I have to get myself back up. It’s fine to be disappointed. There’s a little bit of time to allow myself to do that tonight,” the 11-times world champion said.
”Tomorrow, when I get back up, I have a competition to finish now. And a competition where I have to perform well. I still want my spot on this team.
“It got a bit harder this evening, but I’ll find something within myself to give myself the best shot and try not to let this detract from that possibility.”
Thorpe’s failure in the 100 would amount to a major embarrassment for governing body Swimming Australia which has backed the swimmer, funding his comeback and those of a number of ageing former champions making a last bid for the London Games.
The crowd’s disappointment was compounded by the failure of sentimental favourite Libby Trickett, another swimmer on the comeback trail, to qualify in the 100 butterfly.
The triple Olympic champion came third in the final behind winner and world silver medallist Alicia Coutts to miss out on the chance to defend her title in London.
Coutts and runner-up Jessicah Schipper booked their London tickets after weathering a fierce challenge from the 27-year-old Trickett, who has another chance to qualify in the 100 freestyle at the weekend.
“I really had no idea what to expect tonight,” she said in a poolside interview, struggling to hold back tears.
“So close to nearly on the team, but that’s going to give me so much confidence going into the freestyle... It’s going to be incredibly tough just like tonight was.”
There was better news for Olympic champion Leisel Jones, whose comeback bid remains on track after she qualified second into the final of the 100 breaststroke behind Leiston Pickett.
Christian Sprenger won a thrilling duel to the line to deny former world champion Brenton Rickard his eighth consecutive Australian title in the 100 breaststroke.
Kylie Palmer, runner-up in the 200 freestyle at Shanghai, edged out Bronte Barratt to win the 400 title with an Australian record.
Belinda Hocking, runner-up in the 200 backstroke at last year’s world championships in Shanghai, qualified fastest for the final of the 100 and edged out teenage Olympic medley gold medallist Emily Seebohm.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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