Trials rules are firm: It's 1, 2 or out, no exceptions

U.S. officials are likely to discuss Aussie Thorpe


April 20, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

AUSTIN, Texas - If misfortune befalls Michael Phelps and other premier swimmers at the U.S. Olympic trials, they won't receive the relief that Ian Thorpe is expected to get in Australia.

Thorpe was invincible in the 400-meter freestyle, until he fell off the starting block at his Olympic trials last month and was disqualified. Second-place finisher Craig Stevens is expected to withdraw from the 400 freestyle to focus on other events, enabling Thorpe to replace him and defend his title.

By comparison, American coaches have less discretion in individual-event matters. Eddie Reese, who will coach the U.S. men in Greece, said he anticipates no changes in the trials policy, under which the top two finishers in each event earn Olympic berths. Phelps, of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, is the world-record holder in three events and No. 2 all time in two others, but he knows he must produce at July's trials.

"If you're disqualified, you don't go," Reese said. "You can't ever predict the future in athletics, but we've never done anything like that. If someone makes a mistake, they're out. As Mark Schubert says, the touch pad decides who's in the event."

Schubert was the American men's coach in 2000. Reese will head an Olympic team for the second time. Later this week, he will be in Colorado Springs, Colo., meeting with USA Swimming officials to discuss preparations for the trials, and he expects the Thorpe situation to be raised.

"I know it will come up, but we've just never done it that way," said Reese, whose University of Texas roster includes Ian Crocker, the only man to beat Phelps at the 2003 world championships. "If Ian won the 100 butterfly at the trials and was called for an illegal kick, then he would be out of the placing. There would be a first- and second-place finisher, and he would be disqualified. We've had other swimmers in situations like that, and they didn't go."

Thorpe has suggested Olympic champions be given a qualifying pass to defend their titles, as long as they are in decent shape.

"I've never thought about that," Reese said. "Our country has always been an earn-your-way country."

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