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Thorpe Dominates the Proceedings

Swimming: Australian lives up to hype with Olympic record in 400 freestyle; U.S. fares well.


SYDNEY, Australia — His elders could rave about braving the wall of sound at the Sydney International Aquatic Center, but American breaststroker Ed Moses had to let his eyes and ears do some first-hand Olympic investigating.

Moses went out for today's early heats of the women's 400-meter individual medley and looked and listened, not wanting to be intimidated for his 100 breaststroke prelim later on. He looked at the crowded house and listened when a huge roar went up as the first Australian came out to the pool deck.

Well, one thing is clear. We're not at the trials in Indianapolis anymore.

"It's crazy," Moses said. "Real crazy. It is overwhelming. That's the loudest roar I've ever heard. You thought you were at an NBA arena."

All this was before Ian Thorpe showed up. When the 17-year-old Australian icon-in-the making came out on the deck for the first race of his first Olympics, his appearance generated the kind of excitement you see for a rock star. Hundreds of flashes went off from the cameras of thrilled fans, and giddy volunteers seemed transfixed by his appearance in the 400 freestyle.

Usually, these morning prelims are routine, a dress rehearsal for the evening show. The only real moments of drama are created when a favorite fails to qualify for the next round or a record is set.

When you see how easy it appears for Thorpe in the water, failure by him seems inconceivable . Swimming almost casually, he gave a hint of what could come in the final, setting an Olympic record in the 400 freestyle in 3 minutes 44.65 seconds. The previous record, 3:45.00, was set by Evgeny Sadovyi of the Unified Team--the former Soviet Union--at Barcelona in 1992. Also qualifying for tonight's final were Americans Chad Carvin of Laguna Hills and Klete Keller.

"It felt real good," Carvin said. "I've got plenty in the tank. It's the Olympics. It's my time to shine. I don't have anything to lose."

Thorpe acknowledged his Olympic baptism with a wave and a small smile.

"I'm comfortable with my swim," he said, breezing through the mixed zone about as fast as he did through the pool."

So, it was left for others to speak about him. Mark Schubert, the U.S. men's coach, could only chuckle about the effortless swim. He laughed when asked whether Thorpe is swimming better than he was a little more than a year ago here at the Pan Pacs when he went on his world-record spree in the 200 and 400.

"I'm disappointed to say it, but, yes, he is," Schubert said, laughing again.

The American contingent was in awe of Thorpe.

"I probably think he's the best swimmer in the history of the world," said Josh Davis.

The U.S. team got off to an excellent start, placing two women in tonight's final of the 400 IM--Kaitlin Sandeno of Lake Forest and Maddy Crippen. Sandeno had the third-fastest time, 4:40.89, a personal best. Moses had the third-fastest time, 1:01.59, in the 100 breaststroke.

The only American who struggled in the opening session was Pat Calhoun. He finished 25th, in 1:03.03, almost two seconds off his best time, and missed qualifying for the semifinals.

Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres advanced to the semifinals of the 100 butterfly. Thompson broke the Olympic record, winning her heat in 57.66 and held it for about five minutes before world-record holder Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands went 57.60.

The American men came close to the world record in the 400 freestyle relay. In the prelims, Scott Tucker, Anthony Ervin of Valencia, Jason Lezak of Irvine and Davis went 3:15.43, just shy of the world record, 3:15.11, set by the Americans in 1995.

Davis said he would not be swimming in the final, nor would Tucker. Ervin had the fastest split, an impressive 48.43, and predicted the world record would go down, saying, "We're definitely going to shatter it."

Two teams were disqualified in the relay--Uzbekistan and the Netherlands, which had had medal hopes. The Netherlands went off too early on the first change. Schubert said that topic had been stressed at the team meeting, particularly to the rookie Ervin.

"What was funny," Schubert said. "In the warm-down pool, [Ervin] looked up at me with a big smile and said, 'Was that takeoff safe enough for you coach?'

"We've been talking about that just because he has the least experience. He handled himself real well."

The Australians qualified second in 3:17.37, and Moses summed up the first session, saying, "The rivalry is starting to be silenced a little bit."

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