Stevens opens spot for Thorpe in 400 freestyle

Australian ends suspense by giving up berth to star

Olympics

April 27, 2004|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - Australian distance swimmer Craig Stevens has stepped off the blocks, opening the way for his friend and teammate, Ian Thorpe, to compete in the 400-meter freestyle at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Although the decision had been anticipated, Stevens made his announcement on Australian national television last night. Apparently, altruism wasn't Stevens' only motive. Several Australian media outlets reported he received payment for his TV interview.

The controversial episode began when Thorpe lost his balance on the starting blocks and tumbled into the pool at the Australian Olympic trials in Sydney in March. The false start led to his disqualification. Thorpe is the world-record holder and defending Olympic champion in the 400.

The argument then began over whether the little-known Stevens should give up his 400 berth to Thorpe, who has said little.

"This would have to be the toughest moment of my life," said Stevens, "whether to swim at an Olympic Games or to look after one of your best mates."

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