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Thorpe, Home Pool Give Australian Men Big Advantage; Netherlands' de Bruijn Welcomes Her Shot at Redemption

September 10, 2000|LISA DILLMAN


* OVERVIEW--Thorpedo.

It's the perfect nickname for the perfect Australian champion. Thorpe, 17, is the tailor-made national hero-- talented, humble and caring. When he set his first world record, the teen promptly captured the hearts of the country by donating his five-figure bonus to charity, splitting it between two organizations.

When national Coach Don Talbot declared Thorpe already was the swimmer of the century, the kid objected. Not because of the hype but because he felt the tag slighted other Australian legends.

Well, Thorpe is going to have to get used to it.

He is getting bigger and stronger and his coach is predicting more world records. Thorpe holds the world record in the 200 meters (1:45.51) and the 400 meters (3:41.33). The second-fastest time in the world this year in the 200 is by countryman Michael Klim (1:46.89) and American Klete Keller in the 400 (3:47.18).

By the end of Day 3 at the Olympics, Thorpe could have two individual gold medals and maybe two more world records.

How important will home-pool be for the Aussies?

"It is going to be a huge advantage," said 800 relay member Daniel Kowalski, who won three medals in 1996 at Atlanta.

"We are very fortunate in Australia as swimming is probably the most popular sport, with a few of the team the most recognizable faces in all of the country. So it was a hot ticket to get. Everyone wants to cheer on the Aussie swim team. I saw how much home turf inspired the USA team in 96.

"I have no doubt it will do the same in Sydney."

The last time the Australians won the overall team medal race in swimming was in 1956, when the Games were in Melbourne. The Australian men and women combined for 15 medals and the Americans were second with 12.

* OTHERS TO WATCH--Without the presence of Thorpe, Klim would be the one to watch in Australia. He qualified in three individual events--the 100 and 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly as well as three relays. However, he gave up his spot in the 200--relinquishing it to Grant Hackett--to concentrate on the other events.

Hackett has the unenviable task of competing against an icon, Australian legend Kieren Perkins. At the Australian trials in May, Hackett was well in control in the 1,500, yet the crowd was going wild for Perkins, who is making one last charge.

Other strong medal contenders include Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands (100, 200 and 400 freestyles), Roman Sloudnov of Russia (100 and 200 breaststrokes) and Matt Welsh of Australia (100 backstroke).

Sloudnov, 20, set the world record in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.36) in June at Moscow. He has the second-fastest time in the world this year in the 200 breaststroke.

On the American side, Lenny Krayzelburg is the key figure. His continuing excellence has created high expectations, most of all from himself. Krayzelburg, born in Odessa, Ukraine, and a U.S. citizen since 1995, had little trouble with the competition at the trials, winning the 100 and 200 backstroke races.

But he was less than thrilled with his winning time in the 100--not far off his world record--and not pleased with his stroke in the 200. Expect him to break at least one of his two world records in Sydney.

Ed Moses has the second-fastest time in the world in the 100 breaststroke, as does 19-year-old Erik Vendt of USC in the 1,500 freestyle. Vendt became the first American to break the 15-minute barrier. Chris Thompson was second to Vendt in the 1,500 and Vendt predicted Thompson will crack the 15-minute mark next. Thompson has worked his way into medal contention with the seventh-fastest time in the world in 2000.

Tom Malchow, a silver medalist in Atlanta, is the world-record holder in the 200 butterfly and won the event at the Pan Pacifics last year.

Tom Dolan, defending Olympic champion in the 400 individual medley and world-record holder, has the chance for two more golds, doubling in the 200 individual medley and 400 individual medley.

The youngest swimmer on the American team is 15-year-old Michael Phelps of Towson, Md., who finished second in the 200 butterfly to Malchow. Phelps is the youngest man to make the U.S. team since Ralph Flanagan in 1932.

* BEST STORY--So much has happened to rivals Gary Hall Jr. and Alexander Popov since the 1996 Olympics. Popov beat Hall in two taut races, the 50 and 100 freestyles, at Atlanta. They threw barbs before, during and after the Games.

Since then, Popov survived a near-death experience, got married and had a child. He was stabbed in a fight with a watermelon salesman at home in his native Moscow shortly after the Olympics. He recovered and set the world record in the 50 freestyle (21.64) in a special time trial in Moscow in June.

Hall tested positive for marijuana in 1998 and was suspended for three months by FINA, the international governing body of swimming. Last year, his health and career were threatened when he was diagnosed with diabetes.

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