Thorpe Says IOC Should Consider Giving Defending Champions an Automatic Olympic Berth

By Phillip Whitten

SYDNEY, April 6. IT'S an idea that has been tossed around for at least a decade: allow defending Olympic champions who have proved they are in top shape to be given an automatic berth at the Olympic Games. It's an attractive idea that has a lot of positives going for it and ver few negatives.

Now, however, the idea has been endorsed by none other than Ian Thorpe and it has acquired a certain urgency. Thorpe believes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) should grant automatic entry to reigning Olympic champions who maintain form.

The Australian swimming ace was asked about the idea yesterday in the wake of his DQ at the Australian Olympic Trial last week, which knocked him out of the 400 free. Thorp is the defending Olympic champion, the triple-defending world champion, the reigning world record-holder and is undefeated in the event for more than six years.

"I think that if you're still of a similar standard to what you were at the
previous Olympics, I guess that's probably a possibility that the IOC should look at," Thorpe told Sydney radio station 2UE.

"Especially because they should be trying to keep the Olympic champions and
those athletes who do have that high profile in the sport because it gives
interest to the Olympic Games."

Thorpe, who qualified in both the 100 and 200 meter freestyle, may still compete in the 400 meters if Craig Stevens, the second place finisher at the Aussie Trials, gives up his spot. Stevens left the door open to this possibility when he qualified for the 1500 meters, but he has yet to make a decision.

It also is not clear to this observer why the second spot would automatically go to Thorpe. One would think he would at least have to swim an official time trial, or compete in an official test event.

For his part, Thorpe feels it is unlikely that he'll be swimming his best event in Athens: "There's a 99 per cent chance I won't be swimming it," he commented. For now, he said, he is training solely for the 100 and 200.

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