Thorpe improved marginally on his morning heat time with a finish of 1 minute, 50.79 but still finished well behind the winning time of 1.48.28 [GETTY]

Five-times Olympic gold medallist Ian Thorpe took a small step forward in his bid to qualify for this year's London Games on Saturday but it could be too little, too late.

The 29-year-old Australian placed fifth in the 200 metres freestyle final at the Victorian swimming titles in Melbourne, a day after failing to make the 100 final.

"This is hard enough without trying to bluff your way or fake your way through it," Thorpe told local media, denying he was playing mind games by keeping his best in reserve.

"This is the best I can swim at this stage. There is a lot I have to improve on now."

Australian national coach Leigh Nugent floated the idea Thorpe needed to make the 200 his priority in the run-in to London.

"He's got more time to relax into the race and be his natural self," said Nugent.

Thorpe clocked one minute, 50.79 seconds, a time well outside his former world record of 1:44.06 set in 2001, which stood for almost six years.

Jarrod Killey won the race in 1:48.28 at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

Comeback trail

Thorpe has failed to impress since his comeback to competitive swimming last November, flopping at meets across the Asian World Cup series after returning from a five-year absence.

"Any race he swims will be important to him," said Nugent.

"To link two races together in the one day will be particularly significant for him.

"Being a big man it takes perhaps longer for him to get ready for a competition."

Thorpe himself conceded he made have begun his comeback a little late to qualify for London after failing to reach the 100 final on Friday.

"Time was always going to be the enemy," he said. "Maybe the run for the trials, for the Olympics, was a little bit late."

Nugent said Thorpe could still prove the doubters wrong.

"It won't be until he really rests properly that we'll see what he's really capable of," said Nugent. "That won't be until the (Olympic) trials (in March).

"He's a fantastic athlete. He's our greatest ever and you can never underestimate his capability." 

Source: Reuters