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By Richard Evans

ADELAIDE, Australia (Reuters) – Each night of the swim-offs to determine who will represent Australia in Tokyo next month has thrown up a new star but the penultimate day was very much reserved for the old guard, and the country’s long-standing queen of the pool.

Sprinter Cate Campbell, 29, clinched the second qualifying spot in an extraordinary last race of the night in which four women dipped under 53 seconds in the 100m freestyle, making the Australian 4x 100m freestyle relay team hot gold medal favourites in Tokyo.

Emma McKeon, 27, who won more medals (four) than any other Australian swimmer in Rio, came home first in 52.35 seconds at the South Australia Aquatic Centre with Campbell clocking 52.59.

“This has been the most nerve racking week of my life. What a week it has been in the swimming pool. It is such an exciting team to be a part of. To be going to my fourth Olympics is something I am incredibly proud to say I have achieved,” Campbell said.

“We have just had four girls break 53 seconds, I mean what is going on? The depth of talent in this event is just incredible.”

Local favourite Madison Wilson finished third with Meg Harris fourth.

The first final of the night was an event that has been dominated globally by one man, the now retired American Michael Phelps who has struck gold in the 200m individual medley in each of the last four Olympics.

Mitch Larkin, who took silver in the 200m backstroke in Rio, has chosen to focus on the medley as his best chance of gold next month and romped home first in 1:56.29, well clear of Brendon Smith in second.

“I feel really good, tonight was just a matter of digging deep,” Larkin said. “Physically I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been.”

The decision to drop the 200m backstroke in Tokyo had not been easy.

“It was really difficult deciding between the two events and we sat down and looked at what would make the final and medals and then gold medal,” he said.

Jenna Strauch 24, will compete in her maiden Olympics after winning the women’s 200m breaststroke and will be joined by Abbey Harkin, 23, also making her Games debut.

The men’s 200m backstroke final was won by Tristan Hollard, 24, who was close to tears afterwards as he secured a spot at his first ever Olympics.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)