Phelps Backs Thorpe Over Doping Allegations

Monday, April 9th 2007, 8:58 am

By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ Michael Phelps is backing old rival and friend Ian Thorpe against doping accusations, and he thinks the Australian might come out of retirement.

Thorpe, a five-time Olympic champion who retired five months ago, was reported in late March to have unusually high levels of two performance-enhancing substances in his body when he was tested last May. He has denied taking banned drugs.

``Ian and I have been great friends and great competitors over the past few years and I wish him all the best,'' Phelps said Monday during a stop in Beijing with three other American swimmers to check out the 2008 Olympic venues. ``I will say my support is with him and I'm definitely hoping for the best.''

``If he (Thorpe) wants to start training now and get ready for the Olympics, I wouldn't put it past him. I think he still has a lot in him.''

Phelps, of Towson, Md., won seven gold medals earlier this month at the world championships in Melbourne, and broke five world records. He joined fellow American Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win seven golds at major meets.

But Spitz did it at the Olympics. And Phelps thinks he can, too, by swimming the same program he did in Melbourne.

``Going through it again has made me realize what could happen next year,'' Phelps said. ``After having the kind of meet I had this year, I know it's going to be hard.''

``I really would love to have the opportunity to try it again. I think if this (year's training) goes as well as last year's training, I wouldn't be surprised if I do it again.''

Pressed about matching Spitz's Olympic record, or topping it, Phelps hedged. He also said he expected some surprises _ possibly from the Chinese team.

``If I go in and I do one best time and win one gold medal, that's a success,'' Phelps said. ``If I go in and do five best times and get beat in every one of those events, I'm successful. My training has been a success.''

China brought a full team to Melbourne but won only two medals, and neither was gold. Phelps, who was a surprise finalist in the 2000 Olympics, knows that could change.

``If you'd have asked people in 1999, the year before the 2000 Olympics, if I was going to be at the Olympics people would have said 'No way.' There can be a lot of surprises in a year.''

In Beijing with teammates Katie Hoff, Ryan Lochte and Megan Jendrick, Phelps said touring Beijing gave the Americans a chance ``to get some understanding of what it really is like over here.'' All four were hoping to get inside the Aquatic Center, the swimming venue known as the Watercube, which is still under construction.

A six-time Olympic gold medalist, Phelps also declined to criticize swimming the finals in Beijing in the morning, to suit American TV scheduling.

``Everybody has to get ready for that, and we all have to prepare for that,'' he said. ``I'm going to be ready to step up in the morning if I have to.

``It's the Olympics and if you are not ready to swim at that given time, don't come. If you can't step up and get excited, stay home and watch it on TV. I have no preference. It's the Olympic Games. I'm going to step up and swim as fast as I can if it's morning or night.''

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