Swimming star Thorpe the picture of good luck

Olympian forgot camera or he would have been in World Trade Center

Sports Plus

September 16, 2001|By Andy Knobel | Andy Knobel,SUN STAFF

Ian Thorpe, Australia's world-record swimming champion, woke up early Tuesday in south Manhattan and walked toward the World Trade Center, intending to take pictures from the 110th-floor observation deck of one of the two towers.

Good thing he forgot his camera.

Thorpe returned to his hotel room to retrieve it, and while he waited for Michelle Flaskas, the wife of his co-manager, David Flaskas, the Olympic hero turned on the television. That's when he learned that a terrorist on a suicide mission had flown a hijacked jet into the north tower.

"Thorpey rang me almost straight away and I was just turning the television set on when the second plane hit," said David Flaskas, who was home in Australia. "I was on the phone to them when the Pentagon got hit. He and Michelle were no more than 20 to 30 minutes away from being on top of the World Trade Center."

Thorpe, 18, who won six gold medals at July's world championships, was in New York on a promotional visit. He and Michelle Flaskas gave blood before leaving town.

Relief for Rangers, too

Before the New York Rangers decided to hold their training camp at Madison Square Garden this season, a much more dangerous Manhattan site was considered.

The downtown Chelsea Piers rink was a possibility, and the players would have been housed at a Marriott that was severely damaged Tuesday along with the twin towers. Hotel rooms were reserved in May, but a lack of locker room space made the home arena, a few dozen blocks north, a better choice.

"That's life," captain Mark Messier said. "You try to figure out why sometimes and try to help out the ones who weren't so fortunate."

Getting there

While watching reports of the attack, New York Giants backup center Jason Whittle received a telephone call Tuesday night from Greg Drake, his best friend, in Kansas City, Mo.

Drake's brother, Randy, a construction worker, had been hit by debris after the attack and was in Bellevue Hospital in New York City in serious condition with head trauma.

"None of the rest of the family was here, and I was his closest family," said Whittle, who grew up canoeing and competing in paintball games with the Drakes. "They just wanted somebody there to be by him and hold his hand through the night."

It took Whittle nearly four hours and a lot of pleading to make what is normally a 45-minute trip from his New Jersey home to the hospital. With the bridges and tunnels leading into the city closed, Whittle went from official to official and eventually found a police officer willing to help.

"I kept telling him my story," said Whittle, who never bothered to mention he was a professional football player. "He was nice enough to shuttle me down. It was unbelievable what the city looked like. It looked like a ghost town."

By the time Whittle got to the hospital, Randy Drake had undergone emergency surgery.

"It doesn't look like he is going to make it," Whittle said. "You can hold his hand and he can kind of move his shoulder, but they just think that's brain stem movement.

"To just go there and see your best friend's older brother and not know whether he's going to live ... He's a great guy. He has a wife and a son."

The long road home

The Chicago White Sox left Manhattan by bus 8 a.m. Wednesday and arrived home, 820 miles later, around 11 p.m.

"The ride was long, real long, but it actually went very smoothly," first baseman Paul Konerko said.

"Nobody was really complaining. To put that in perspective - and I'm guilty - we normally have guys who, if a plane is 10 minutes late or a bus is 10 minutes late or if they don't get what drink they want, there is complaining like you wouldn't believe.

"I didn't hear one person yesterday, even though it took 15 hours. It was like, `Let's go, let's get out of here and we got to do what we got to do.' "

Compiled from wire reports and Web sites.

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