Thorpe breaks 800-meter world record at Aussie champs

HOBART, Australia (AP) Olympic champion Ian Thorpe broke the 800-meter world record by more than four seconds at the Australian swimming championships Monday.

The 18-year-old Aussie was timed in 7 minutes, 41.59 seconds, bettering the mark of 7:46.00 compatriot Kieren Perkins set at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada en route to the 1,500-meter gold medal in that race.

Thorpe's swim at the Hobart Aquatic Center gives the triple Olympic champion the 12th world record of his career - one better than Perkins, who retired after the Sydney Olympics.

The 800 has never been contested by men at the world championships, Olympics or Commonwealth Games. But the event will be held in July at the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

Thorpe, a movie buff, was more interested in finding out about the results of the Oscars than in talking about his world record after the race.

"It is a Gladiator night," he said after learning that Russell Crowe, a New Zealand-born Australian, won best actor at the Academy Awards.

Swimming the first major 800-meter race of his career, Thorpe took 4.41 off Perkins' time.

Olympic 1,500-meter champion Grant Hackett also went under Perkins' record, finishing in 7:44.57. But he had to settle for the silver medal behind his younger rival.

``He's an amazing athlete," Hackett said. "He's come to this meet fitter than me. Hopefully at the world champs, I'll give him a bit more run for his money in the last lap."

Hackett led all the way until Thorpe brought his powerful legs, described by Hackett as two tree trunks, into play over the last 100 meters.

"I didn't use them for the first half of the race I had something there to spare in the last half," Thorpe said.

The Sydney teen-ager, who swam a 200-meter freestyle semifinal just minutes before the 800 meters, took almost half a minute off his previous best time of 8:09.95 to win the gold.

Thorpe stayed by Hackett's shoulder for most of the race before moving ahead at 700 meters.

Australian coach Don Talbot said he could find no superlatives to describe the swimmer he labeled three years ago as "possibly the athlete of the century."

"I've used all the great statements about him that I can make and I still think he's exploring what he can do," he said.

Talbot believes Thorpe and Hackett will lower the 800-meter record further at Fukuoka.

"Tonight I don't think it's a true indicator of where the world record can be," Talbot said. "It was play time. It was almost synchronized swimming in the first 400 or 500.

"They never really swam the thing until about 300 meters to go. It's a little bit like you see the cyclists when they get up and do the Tour de France - jockeying around."

Thorpe said he can swim the race even better.

"If I was going to see how fast I could do it, I probably would have introduced my kick a lot earlier," he said.

Thorpe's success until Monday has come as a sprinter 100- 200- and 400-meter freestyle. He says he's not a distance swimmer yet.

"I still consider myself to be a sprinter," he said.

He said he was unlikely to add the 1,500-meter freestyle to his program. But he hasn't ruled it out.

"Things change," he said.


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