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Swimming Australia Throws Down Challenge to its Sprinters -- March 9, 2005

SYDNEY, Australia, March 9. IN an article printed in the Thursday edition of The Australian, Nicole Jeffery reported that the Aussies may not select a 400 freestyle relay for this summer's World Championships in Montreal.

Jeffery reported that Swimming Australia has set a qualifying standard of 3:15.77. The selected standard is equivalent to the time Australia posted at last summer's Athens Olympics, en route to a sixth-place finish.

According to the story, the top four 100 freestylers must average 49.46 or faster at next week's Australian Nationals in order to be selected as a unit.

However, with Ian Thorpe opting out of this year's World Championship, the Aussies will be without their go-to guy. More, Australia must find suitable replacements for Ashley Callus and Todd Pearson, major relay players in the past.

Of those competing at Nationals, only Michael Klim has eclipsed the 49.46 mark necessary for inclusion. Otherwise, Australia has some work to do. Alan Thompson, the national coach, indicated that there will be no flexibility.

"We won't be picking them if they don't make the standard," Thompson said. "We will just put together a team from those who qualify in other events."

For Australia to select its relay as a unit, it will require significantly improved performances from its youth, such as Eamon Sullivan, Andrew Mewing and Kirk Palmer.

Sullivan was an Olympian last summer while Palmer won the 100 free at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii in January.

"This is a challenge for them, but the history of our guys standing up is quite good, and we are hoping they will qualify, Thompson said."

Five years ago, during the Sydney Olympics, Australia rocketed to a world record (since topped by South Africa) and gold-medal effort in the 400 free relay.