By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, July 9. IN a major turnaround, Australian 200-400 freestyle champion Elka Graham flew out of Sydney late today headed for the Aussie swim team's training camp in Germany on route to the World Championships in Barcelona barring further health problems.
Graham was originally ruled out of the championships just last Friday after medical specialists would not give assurances to Australian Swimming that her life would not be at risk if she competed. Undeterred by the initial ruling, Graham and her coach Brian Sutton continued to push for additional medical support to clear the way for her reinstatement.
This came today in the form of a second opinion from cardiologist David Whalley, of Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital and Australian Swimming cleared Graham to fly to Germany.
The Sydney University-based swimmer was taken to the hospital with an irregular heart beat and low blood pressure after collapsing following a training session last month.
National high performance director Greg Hodge said Dr. Whalley's report had been checked by Australian Swimming's lawyers and the possibility of sudden death had been ruled out.
"Initially, obviously they were very concerned when she presented with this because athlete sudden death is a worldwide phenomenon that specialists don't know much about so they were obviously keen to explore all the possibilities," Hodge said from the training camp in Sindelfingen, Germany.
The key to Whalley's report found no electrocardio arrhythmia – a key factor in sudden death.
The decision to allow Graham to fly to Germany means the 21-year-old will take to the blocks in the 200m and 400m freestyle and both women's freestyle relays in Barcelona unless she has another fainting spell. In 2003, the current Australian champion is ranked 3rd and 13th globally respectively in the 200-400 double.
"In the absence of any further episodes she will be able to compete," Hodge said.
He said a cardiologist had monitored Graham's training sessions for 10 days without problems.
Her coach Brian Sutton, remained confident she would swim all her events and swim well.