Ian Thorpe of Australia swam to a four-second victory in the 200-meter freestyle and Gary Hall Jr. easily won the 50 free at the Janet Evans Invitational last night in Long Beach, Calif.

Thorpe won in 1 minute 45.63 seconds -- a meet record and under Michael Phelps's American record time of 1 minute 45.99 seconds. Ryk Neethling of South Africa was second in 1:49.66.

Thorpe's coach, Tracey Menzies, said his only goal was to swim comfortably in the above-ground pool set up in a parking lot on the shoreline.

"We weren't looking at times or great speed," she said. "We swam faster than I expected."

Hall tuned up for next month's U.S. Olympic trials to be held in the same pool by defeating a talented field in the 50 free. The defending Olympic champion was first in a meet-record 22.26 seconds -- but off his American mark of 21.76.

Hall has lost none of the bravado he displayed in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.

"If this is an indication, I think I'll be swimming faster than any man has before," he said with a straight face.


Ivan Lee of the United States won bronze in men's saber after losing to Stanislav Podzniakov, 15-9, in a semifinal at the New York Grand Prix of fencing.


Kimiko Soldati isn't over the hill. In fact, she's just getting started.

Soldati bounced back from a poor dive to earn her first trip to the Olympics, winning the three-meter springboard at the U.S. trials in St. Peters, Mo., with a stirring finish.

Not bad for the oldest competitor at the trials. Soldati is a 30-year-old former gymnast who didn't start diving seriously until a dozen years ago and overcame numerous injuries to claim her ticket for Athens.

Soldati finished with 884.70 points, while Rachelle Kunkel locked up her first trip to the Olympics by finishing second at 874.38.

Michelle Davison, a 2000 Olympian, settled for third at 870.60 -- just 3.78 points out of a return trip to the Games.

Meantime on the men's side, Mark Ruiz climbed to the next-to-last ledge of the 33-foot-high tower -- and couldn't go any farther.

Overwhelmed by a fear of heights after a painful crash in practice, the 2000 Olympian skipped a dive, costing himself a chance to make the squad in 10-meter platform.

"I'm so disappointed," said Ruiz, who competed in three events at Sydney but will do only one -- synchronized platform -- in Athens. "To not be on the Olympic team in this event is devastating."

Caesar Garcia dominated from start to finish to earn his first Olympic berth.

Torch Relay

Former South African president Nelson Mandela was handed the Olympic flame yesterday at the prison on Robben Island where he spent most of 27 years in jail. The flame's first trip to South Africa came as the country celebrates its first decade of all-race democracy.

Crowds gathered at key points along the route, including sports stars and music legends, schoolchildren and a 100-year-old man.

Former South African president Nelson Mandela carries the Olympic flame outside his former prison cell on Robben Island near Cape Town.