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Thorpe claims gold in the 400m freestyle

Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett claim Australia’s first medals at the Athens Olympics. (Getty Images)

Thorpe, Hackett quinella 400m free

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004 . 03:13:05 (AEST)

Ian Thorpe has won his first gold medal of the Athens Games with victory in the 400m freestyle, the event he almost had to pass up after his at disqualification in the Australian Olympic trials.

Grant Hackett pushed his compatriot all the way, but couldn't quite reel Thorpe in. The medals were the first won by Australia at the Games.

A clearly emotional Thorpe was close to tears as he embraced Hackett after the race, but composed himself to celebrate with a familiar fist-pump.

It was a relatively slow race by Thorpe's standards. He clocked 3 minutes 43.10 seconds, with Hackett 0.26 of a second further back.

Thorpe's winning time was three seconds outside his own world record. American Klete Keller was third.

After the race Thorpe paid tribute to his support team. "I was emotional because I didn't realise how much this event meant to me," he said.

"A lot of people have sacrificed a lot to give me this opportunity, not just Craig Stevens in giving me the chance to swim this race and defend my Olympic title, but also my coach, my parents, my family and friends and I really do appreciate all that."

Hackett, who was catching Thorpe in the closing stages, said he was elated to have won a medal after finishing seventh in the same event in Sydney.

"I just needed a few more metres... it was a great race. Ian and I have had some many great battles over the years and I guess this has just added another one to the history books," he said.

"It would have been nice to just get that little bit extra tonight but if someone's going to beat you, you want it to be a fellow Australian and Ian's such a great guy and a great friend and to come one-two - I'm stoked... to come first and second is just awesome."

It was a relatively slow start by Thorpe who was more than a second outside his world record split at the 100m mark.

By the half-way mark he was 1.47s outside world record time, but still led the field by half a body length, with Hackett second.

Thorpe was only nominated for the event after compatriot Craig Stevens, who finished second to Hackett at the Olympic trials, decided to pull out of the event to concentrate on his pet event, the 1,500m.

The big Australian, who won the event in Sydney four years ago, created a sensation when he overbalanced and fell into the pool during Olympic trials.

Under swimming's new and unforgiving starting rules, that meant automatic disqualification and it seemed, given Australian Swimming's strict qualification rules, that he would be unable to swim in the 400m.

But Stevens' subsequent performance in the final, and his decision to pull out of the event, gave Thorpe the chance and he has taken it with both hands.

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