ATHENS, Greece -- Ian Thorpe of Australia won a gold medal
in the Olympic race he almost didn't get to compete in, edging
countryman Grant Hackett in the 400-meter freestyle Saturday night.
American Klete Keller won the bronze.
Thorpe touched the wall first in 3 minutes, 43.10 seconds, well
off his world-record time, but enough to win 400 gold for the
second straight Olympics.
Hackett took silver in 3:43.35, while Keller, of Phoenix,
claimed the bronze with an American record of 3:44.11. The American
finished third in the same race four years ago at Sydney.
Thorpe came into the Olympics with the eight fastest times ever,
including the world record of 3:40.08 at the Commonwealth Games two
years ago. But he was fortunate just to get a shot at the race in
At the Australian trials, he inexplicably fell off the starting
block and was disqualified. He got to race his favorite event only
after teammate Craig Stevens gave up his spot.
"I didn't realize how much this event meant to me," said
Thorpe, who fought back tears after touching the wall. "I am more
excited now that it is off my shoulders."
Thorpe's primary challenger was Hackett, a distance star heavily
favored in the 1,500 free. He was fastest during the morning
prelims, earning the prime lane position with a time of 3:46.36.
But Hackett couldn't overtake the Thorpedo in the final.
Another American, 18-year-old Larsen Jensen of Bakersfield,
Calif., took fourth in 3:46.08. The reigning silver medalist,
Massimiliano Rosolino of Italy, finished fifth.