| Ian Thorpe after qualifying for the 200m freestyle in Sydney on Sunday
Sydney: Even as Australian Prime Minister John Howard led the national outpouring of grief over Ian Thorpe’s shock disqualification from the 400m freestyle at the Olympic trials, the swimmer has won his 200m freestyle semi-final on Sunday.
Thorpe, who is world record holder in both events, will contest the 200m freestyle final on Monday night after clinching the first place in one minute 48.33 seconds, 0.22 seconds ahead of Grant Hackett.
Olympic champion and world record-holder Thorpe overbalanced on the blocks and fell into the water before the start of his 400m freestyle at the trials and was ruled out of Saturday’s race in Sydney, and the Athens Games in August.
The crowd gasped in horror as a stunned Thorpe, who was a hot favourite for the 400m gold in the August 13-29 Games, walked away.
“I think it’s a tragedy that arguably one of the greatest swimmers this country has produced is not going to be performing for his country in his prime event,” Prime Minister Howard told Australian television on Sunday.
Two appeals by Thorpe to Australian Swimming (AS) officials were unsuccessful.
“He’s only human. He’s not a machine and we saw that yesterday,” Thorpe’s stunned coach Tracey Menzies told a news conference on Sunday.
“A rule’s a rule. That’s a rule (one-start policy) that we have to follow. The two contenders for the 400m will be Grant Hackett and Craig Stevens (who finished first and second in the final on Saturday).
“That’s final,” added Menzies, who said Thorpe had ruled out any further appeals against his disqualification.
Meanwhile, Australian newspapers reacted in horror and disbelief. “He’s sunk,” Melbourne’s Sunday Herald Sun newspaper declared on its front page following the swimmers disqualification.
Swimmers and politicians called for a rule change to allow Thorpe to shoot for Olympic history by trying to win the 400m at three successive Games.