By Stephen J. Thomas
SYDNEY, Australia, April 27. WORLD record-holder and reigning 400 meter freestyle Olympic champion Ian Thorpe has been allowed back on the blocks for a second start in his signature event in Athens, albeit via a somewhat circuitous route.
Thorpe was contacted this morning by Australian Swimming and asked if he would fill the position relinquished by Craig Stevens yesterday. Thorpe told a packed press conference at the Sydney Aquatic Centre that he would take the opportunity to swim the 400 freestyle, ending a month-long saga that began when he was disqualified for a false start in the heats of the event at the Olympic trials.
Thorpe said he was excited to be swimming the event in which he stands undefeated since 1998 when he won at the World Championships in Perth from teammate Grant Hackett.
"I'm pleased that I have the opportunity to swim this event at the Olympics and I'm grateful to Craig to have given me this opportunity … I'm excited about swimming the 400 because I won my first Olympic gold medal in the event," Thorpe told the assembled media and a live cable television audience.
"I'm excited about swimming and not worried about the pressure that comes with it, a little concerned, but not worried."
Thorpe disclosed he had spoken to Stevens before his friend‘s commercial television appearance last night.
"I actually spoke to Craig before the program went to air … I know Craig's decision was what he wanted to do, not what anyone else wanted him to do,” he said.
"I wouldn't have swum this race if I wasn't satisfied about the decision Craig had made and how he made the decision. I discussed with him what he had been through in the last month, and after that I thanked him for making the decision that he'd made."
The intense media pressure of the month-long ordeal has clearly taking its toll on the swimmers and both must be looking forward to getting back to what they do best – swimming.
Amazingly Thorpe has not posted a time for the 400 freestyle this year but Southern Californian swim fans may well see his only race over the distance prior to the Olympics at the Janet Evans Invitational in Long Beach mid-June. Thorpe is scheduled to swim at the meet along with Craig Stevens as part of a team of twenty-three leading Aussie swimmers that will be crossing the Pacific for altitude training prior to the meet.