By Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, April 23. FOUR-TIME NCAA champion Klete Keller, 20, has decided to drop out of the University of Southern California at the end of the Spring semester, SwimInfo.com has learned. Keller,a sophomore plans to devote all his efforts to preparing for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
Keller was one of the lynchpins, along with Erik Vendt, of USC's highly successful season this year, winning the 500 yard freestyle (4:12.83) at NCAAs and anchoring USC's record-setting 800 free relay with the fastest 200 yard free split in history (1:32.15). Last year, in his freshman year, he won both the 200 and 500 freestyles.
In 2000, Keller twice set the American record in the 400m freestyle, winning bronze in Sydney in the 400 (3:47.00) and anchoring the silver medal-winning US 800m free relay. Last year he had the fastest time by an American in the 200m freestyle.
Keller will be training in Michigan under coach Jon Urbanchek.
Urbanchek said he was "taken completely by surprise when I heard from Klete the other day — especially since he has been doing so well under Coach Schubert. But USC's loss may turn out to be USA Swimming's gain."
Keller, one of the brightest young stars on the international swimming scene and winner of the 200m freestyle at the recent Short Course World Championships in Moscow, unfortunately excels in the same events as Australia's "Thorpedo," Ian Thorpe.
"Klete apparently has made the decision that he's going to do everything he can to make himself competitive with Thorpe. If anyone has the talent to challenge Thorpe, it's probably Klete and Holland's Pieter van den Hoogenband," said Urbanchek.