SYDNEY (Reuters) - Double Olympic champion Grant Hackett shocked himself with an unlikely third place finish in the 400 metre freestyle at the Australian swimming championships on Friday, his first meet since the 2008 Beijing Games.
The 34-year-old Hackett, who won 1,500m freestyle gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and defended the title four years later at Athens, clocked a time of three minutes, 46.53 seconds to finish behind surprise winner Mack Horton and defending champion David McKeon.
Hackett, who won 10 world titles and also a silver medal in the 1,500m at the 2008 Beijing Games, had qualified fourth fastest for the final in three minutes, 49.97 seconds -- his best time since returning to the pool six month ago.
"I don't know what is going on," Hackett told reporters after the final.
"I can't believe I can do that after six months. Maybe I am a bit older and stronger. Who knows what I can do in another six months?"
Rated one of the greatest distance swimmers ever, Hackett returned to the pool for his own wellbeing rather than with an eye on the 2016 Rio Games after seeing compatriot Ian Thorpe's attempted comeback to make the London 2012 team end in failure.
Hackett endured a difficult start to 2014, flying to the United States to spend time in rehab to treat a dependency to insomnia medication Zolpidem.
But his impressive showing will only add to expectations he can make the relay team for the world championships in Russia later this year by finishing in the top six of the 200m freestyle later in the meet.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; Editing by John O'Brien