Snub in freestyle relay still bugs Hall

9-time medalist `wanted very much' to be on team

Men's Swimming

Athens Olympics 2004

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

ATHENS -- Gary Hall Jr. will try to repeat today as the Olympic champion in swimming's 50-meter freestyle. After yesterday's semifinals, he voiced his frustration at losing a spot on the American 400 freestyle relay to Michael Phelps.

Having never lost in the Olympics before Hall anchored a silver-medal effort four years ago in Sydney, that American relay took a shocking bronze Sunday. The outcome put a serious dent in Phelps' chances of matching Mark Spitz's seven gold medals, and it hurt Hall, too.

Phelps did not swim the 100 freestyle at the U.S. trials. Hall finished third there, but America's oldest male Olympic swimmer since 1928 didn't meet the criteria set in the relay preliminaries by coach Eddie Reese.

"I was disappointed in the decision," said Hall, 29. "I don't think it was the right decision. Eddie said he wasn't going to second-guess himself and that's fine, but it's something I have to live with and something that I take personally. That relay, I wanted very much to be a part of it."

Slowed by a sore throat, Ian Crocker led off in 50.05 seconds, the slowest opening leg among the eight teams in the final. Phelps' reaction time on their exchange to the second leg was .44 of a second, the slowest among the 24 swimmers who didn't work the first leg.

"I question Eddie Reese's decision," Hall said. "He knew Ian Crocker was sick. He was a second off his personal best. The relay exchange with Phelps was a half-second. Michael is a great normal swimmer. It's not personal. I cheer him on as much as anybody. The coaches knew he was going to be on that relay. He didn't do one exchange with the team. I think that showed."

The bronze Hall received for swimming in the 400 relay preliminary was his ninth Olympic medal. If he places among the top three in the 50 free, that would be his 10th. Mark Spitz finished his career with a record 11.

Given the struggles of the American 100 freestyle men, does Hall deserve to anchor the 400 medley relay in tomorrow's final, and match Spitz?

"That's not going to happen," Hall said.

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