Adelaide: Five-times Olympic champion Ian Thorpe kept his London ambitions firing when he reached the semi-finals of the 200 metres freestyle at the Australian trials on Friday with a solid swim that thrilled head coach Leigh Nugent.
Thorpe, who will also compete in the 100 freestyle at the weekend, finished tied for second in his heat to be equal fifth fastest going into the semi-finals in the evening session at Adelaide`s South Australia Aquatic and Leisure Centre.
"I thought it looked pretty good!" a clearly relieved Nugent told reporters. "He`s such a magnificent freestyler, when he swims against everyone else, we`ve got so many good athletes here, he`s just a standout."
The headline act at Australia`s trials, Thorpe mounted the starting block to a huge roar from stands packed with noisy schoolchildren and pushed out to a strong lead by the halfway turn before being reeled in by pace-setter Ryan Napoleon.
Thorpe posted a time of one minute, 49.16 seconds to finish in a dead heat with David McKeon, his fastest swim in the distance since returning to competition in November, but more than five seconds adrift of his personal best set in 2001.
"It`s a pretty decent time. I`m happy with that swim this morning," the 29-year-old said in a brief poolside interview before heading off to prepare for the semi-finals (0912 GMT).
Should Thorpe make the final but miss out on a berth for the individual event reserved for the winner and runner-up, a top-six finish will at least ensure he is considered for selection to the four-member freestyle relay team.
"I know his strategy was to put the pressure on in the first two-thirds of the race and then make whatever adjustments he felt he needed to make. How much that adjustment was, I`ve got no idea," Nugent added.
"I`ve made the comment a couple of times that I think his demeanour is different. These athletes who have done everything... those people are highly stimulated by this sort of competition and there`s nothing more enticing than going into the Olympic Games."
After more than five years away from the pool, the 11-times world champion announced his return to the pool just over a year ago with the aim of qualifying for his third Olympics.
He has struggled to post competitive times since returning to the pool, fuelling rampant speculation by local media that he is keeping his powder dry, despite repeatedly writing off his own chances.
Thorpe`s best chance making the Australia team is in the 200 freestyle, with the 100 boasting an ultra-competitive field including world champion James Magnussen and the other three members of the gold-medal winning relay team from last year`s world championships in Shanghai.
Nugent said he Thorpe would need rise to another level for the semi-final.
"I would think probably 1:48 low will make the final, but he probably not want to be in (lane) one or eight," he said. "It`s probably irrelevant, you`ve got to make the top eight and for him it would be terrific if he was in the top four."
Thorpe`s London bid has attracted huge interest and media attention, and fuelled sell-outs at the 3,000-seat arena for the evening session finals over the next four nights.