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Thursday, March 29, 2007
Hackett to 'play it by ear' for next freestyle event

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australian star Grant Hackett was in serious doubt for the 1,500-meter freestyle, an event he has won four straight times at the world swimming championships.

"It is in question, I'm going to play it by ear," Hackett said Friday at a news conference, countering the comments of the Aussie head coach the previous day. "I'm not feeling fantastic. I might leave until just before the race before deciding."

Hackett finished seventh in the 800 freestyle on Wednesday night, 17 seconds slower than his world record in the non-Olympic event. He also finished third in the 400, another event that he was defending along with his 1,500 in Melbourne.

"I've just got to be honest with myself and if my body's not at a certain level, then I've got to make a very tough decision," Hackett said.

Qualifying heats for the 1,500 are scheduled for Saturday morning. The race is Sunday night.

"Physically, I felt quite fatigued after that 800," Hackett said. "I never, ever thought I'd be contemplating this situation.

"I honestly thought coming into the event I'd be swimming OK and I'd be competitive ... but it hasn't turned out like that and I've been dealt a set of cards and I just have to deal with it."

Hackett's four straight world titles in the 1,500 is the longest streak ever in one event. He also holds four of the top five fastest times in history, including the world record of 14 minutes, 34.56 seconds.

But Hackett's training has been affected by a coaching switch, shoulder surgery and his impending marriage to Australian singer Candice Alley.

"There's obviously been a lot of issues with the preparation and the decisions I've had to make, and unfortunately I've just had to be honest with the way I'm going.

"What good is it to swim [the 1,500] if the 800 and the 400 have taken that much out of me and I'm just going to get up on the blocks and fatigue my body for absolutely no purpose?"

Australian coach Alan Thompson said Thursday that Hackett still planned to swim his signature event. But on Friday, sitting next to Hackett at the news conference, Thompson didn't sound so sure.

"I think he's had a day off yesterday to recover and he probably hasn't recovered as well as he thought," Thompson said. "He'll get in the water this [Friday] morning and see how he feels and see how he feels tonight.

"There's no pressure on Grant to do anything for any other purposes other than himself."

Hackett, who won the 1,500 at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, said any setbacks in Melbourne wont affect his preparations for Beijing next year.

"I'm always positive for the future and the outlook for my career, and I feel I can get back to my best if I can just put a few weeks and a few months back-to-back and get everything right," Hackett said.

"I'd love to get up and put in some sort of decent performance, but I've just got to gauge how I feel and be honest with myself."