Michael Klim Undergoes Major Back Surgery

By Stephen J Thomas

MELBOURNE, Feb. 6. AUSTRALIAN Olympic and world champion, Michael Klim is to undergo a microscopic discectomy today – an operation that requires the removal of the fragment of the disc in his lumbar spine that is impinging on the sciatic nerve. Surgeons will also shave away bone from his vertebrae to give the nerve space to heal.

Klim had a nerve-block operation last week in a last attempt to avoid a major back operation. However, specialists in his home town of Melbourne concluded from a series of scans taken that the surgery was essential immediately.

Klim was unable to be seated during his press conference yesterday, forced to kneel on the floor to address the attending media. "Basically I can't sit, I can only lie down or stand up, and I've been having difficulty sleeping," he said. "I've been kneeling for every meal for the last few weeks … I was swimming with a broken ankle in Japan last year (World Championships) and that was really painful, but I'll tell you what, this is even worse."

It has been a very difficult eighteen months for the 100 fly world record-holder since he missed individual Olympic gold in Sydney (taking silver in this event behind Swede Lars Frolander). Then last year before the World Championships in Fukuoka, Klim fractured his ankle after already having a major disruption to his training when long time coach Gennadi Touretski was charged with possession of steroids, first suspended, then reinstated six months later. Touretski, then had triple-bypass heart surgery in late October and Klim shifted from the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra to Denis Cotterell's leading Miami squad on the Queensland Gold Coast.

The operation will see him miss three major international events this year. The World Short Course Championships in Moscow, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and, most likely, the Pan Pacific championships in Yokohama. "I'm looking long-term, to be in the sport for a long time," Klim said. "I'm only twenty-four and believe I can swim until I'm over thirty, so this is a move for the future."

Klim will have to be patient, the Australian team doctor Brian Sando said the operation was a major procedure never undertaken lightly and generally required three and six months of rehabilitation.