Hall not in water, nor is he watching

Agent of would-be anchor criticizes coach's decision

Athens Olympics 2004

August 16, 2004|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Gary Hall Jr. passed on last night's Olympic swimming finals, declining to watch the final of the 400-meter freestyle relay.

Hall anchored the Americans to gold in 1996 and handled that position when they suffered their first Olympic loss in the race, to a 2000 Australian team that fed on its home-pool advantage.

He swam in the preliminaries yesterday morning and took umbrage at being bumped by Michael Phelps for the final. Hall might not have made a difference in the Americans' third-place finish, but he apparently felt his record had earned him a spot in the final.

Hall was unavailable for comment, but his agent criticized American coach Eddie Reese's decision to require relay candidates to swim legs of 48.35 or faster in the preliminary, the equivalent of the open 49.05 Phelps posted in the 100 freestyle last February. (Swimmers generally go faster in legs of a relay than in a regular race over the same distance.)

Neil Walker hit that cutoff in the morning and swam brilliantly in the final.

Phelps did not swim the 100 freestyle at the U.S. trials, where Hall was third in 49.16.

"Michael did his time at the Spring Nationals," said David Arluck, Hall's agent. "Gary did his at the U.S. trials, a much more pressure-filled event. If you want to talk about history, Gary always swims faster at night. How in your right mind can you put Michael on that relay? Gary earned that spot.

"I'm speaking as a friend of Gary's. You're talking about the most decorated male athlete at these Games. What Michael is trying to do is more incredible than anything that's been tried in a generation, but the momentum created by what Phelps is trying to do led to what was not best for the relay."

Hall swam 48.73 in the preliminary. Phelps went 48.74 in the final, when the Americans were beaten by South Africa and the Netherlands.

Asked about Hall's absence, Phelps said: "It's disappointing he wasn't there, but there are no hard feelings."

Like Phelps, Hall began the Olympic year hoping to match Spitz, who won 11 medals total. Hall came here with eight, has nine after last night - every member of a relay gets a medal, whether he swims the final or not - and can get a 10th in the 50 freestyle, where he's among the favorites.

The oldest American male Olympic swimmer since 1924, Hall turns 30 next month. He had campaigned for the captaincy of the U.S. team, but fellow three-time Olympians Lenny Krayzelburg and Tom Malchow got that honor.

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