Swimming: Thorpe given chance to defend 400m title

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The Independent Online

Ian Thorpe is almost certain to be swimming the 400 meters freestyle at the Olympics despite missing selection for that event in the Australian team.

Thorpe was disqualified for a false start in the 400 in the heats at the national Olympic trials, allowing Craig Stevens to get an unexpected spot at Athens.

Stevens has hinted he'll sacrifice his spot in the 400 to concentrate on the 1,500 meters.

And Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said the fact Stevens was contemplating selling his story to the media was an indicator he was prepared to relinquish his spot in the 400 to Thorpe.

"We do know that people acting on behalf of Craig have been doing the rounds to sell the story over the last week so we do anticipate he's going to withdraw," Coates told reporters Thursday.

"We do know that Australian Swimming has discussed with Ian Thorpe's manager whether he would take the position and the answer to that is yes."

Coates said nobody had pressured Stevens to make way for Thorpe, the world and Olympic 400 freestyle champion.

"He's out there purporting to get set up for an announcement to withdraw. Ian Thorpe hasn't put any pressure on him," Coates said. "There's certainly been a weight of public opinion that it would be nice for him to withdraw in favor of Ian. Whether that's fair or not you can be the judge."

Stevens has said he's still awaiting legal advice before making an announcement on his Olympic program.

The AOC had hired lawyer Alan Sullivan to review the Olympic selection criteria after Swimming Australia raised concerns over who would be eligible to swim the 400 if Stevens sacrificed his spot in the race. The selection criteria stipulated the first two swimmers at the trials and if either was unavailable, the "next ranked" swimmer would replace them.

Sullivan said Thorpe should be next in line, as the intention of the selection regulations was to chose the best available medal prospect.

Thorpe, who qualified for the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, was the obvious choice to swim in the 400 if Stevens withdrew. But Josh Krogh moved into the frame.

Krogh placed third behind Hackett and Stevens in the 400 at the Olympic trials and swam an A-qualifying time.

Coates said legal advice was required to clarify the meaning of "next ranked."

"In my opinion it is Mr. Thorpe and not Mr. Krogh or any other swimmer who satisfies the nomination criteria," said Sullivan.

Krogh had earlier ruled out swimming at Athens at the expense of Thorpe.

"Regardless of Craig's decision, the fact remains I didn't qualify in that event. I've moved on and will not be swimming at the Athens Olympics," Krogh said in a statement.