By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, July 4. IN what is a huge loss to the Australian swim team to compete in Barcelona, Elka Graham, the current national 200m and 400m freestyle champ has this afternoon been ruled out of the team to compete in Barcelona on medical grounds by Australian Swimming Inc.
The 21-year-old Graham, had collapsed twice after training just over two weeks ago and had been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure with suggestions that there was a chance she could put her life at risk competing at a high level. After completing a series of neurological tests Graham had been back in training under the carefully supervision of her doctors and coach Brian Sutton.
Australian Swimming sought assurances from Graham’s medical practitioners to prove her fitness, but such assurances had not been received by late today.
Australian Swimming’s chief executive officer, Glenn Tasker, said today that ASI had no alternative but to omit Graham from the team for health reasons.
Mr Tasker said: "Australian Swimming had been made aware of Elka’s health issues and we needed assurances from medical practitioners as to her fitness to compete at the FINA World Championships. Such assurances have not been received."
The Australian team are due to depart Australia on Sunday bound for a training camp in Germany for their final preparation for the meet.
Graham was entered in the 200m and 400m freestyle (ranked 3rd and 13th globally in 2003 respectively) and was a member of the 400m and 800m freestyle relay teams.
In another twist of fate, 2000 Olympic 400m freestyler, Kasey Giteau, was last night approached as a last minute replacement for Graham but has had to decline the opportunity due to a back injury that only started to trouble her earlier in the week.
"At first it just felt like a muscle strain when I woke up on Tuesday, but as the week has gone on it has been really painful and I have been having physio daily," Giteau told Swiminfo.
"It's really bad luck but it was always an outside chance. It's much tougher for Elka … so I'll just concentrate on getting it (the back) right for the Australian short course in August.
Giteau, 20, moved swiftly back into the spotlight after recent excellent performances at the Mare Nostrum after failing to qualify for the team in March. In Monte Carlo she won the 400 freestyle in a PR 4:10.45 (5th fastest globally in 2003 and 7th fastest all-time by an Australian), beating Yana Klochkova, the current world champion and dual Olympic gold medalist. It was the best 400 free by an Aussie since Hayley Lewis nine years ago and over one second faster that Elka Graham's winning time at the trials. Giteau followed this at the Barcelona leg with another PR in the 200 free (2:00.81), taking third behind the Olympic silver medalist Martina Moravcova.