By ROB GLOSTER -- Associated Press
SYDNEY, Australia -- Australian swimmer Kieren Perkins, a two-time gold medalist, lashed out at American swimmer Gary Hall Jr. -- who served a ban for marijuana use in 1998 -- as a "drug cheat."
Perkins, who has won the 1,500-meter freestyle in the past two Olympics and is the senior member of the Australian swimming team, made his comment Tuesday at the team's training camp in Melbourne.
He was reacting to a column written two weeks ago by Hall that was extremely complimentary about Australian swimmers but boasted the Americans "will smash them like guitars."
Perkins said no one should listen to Hall.
"I don't take a lot of notice of drug cheats so you know, don't worry about him," said Perkins. "He got suspended didn't he? It's fact then, there you go."
Hall's column, written for the Web site www.cnnsi.com and released on Aug. 22, said the U.S. swimmers "have our work cut out for us."
"Unfortunately, the rest of the world has made greater strides than us," Hall wrote, adding that the Australian national swimming program sets an example other nations should follow.
"If it's possible to wish Australia well without getting squashed in the process, I do. I hope that they do well. I feel that it may be exactly what United States swimming needs."
Hall said the United States has been the world leader in swimming for so long that the system is outdated and needs some changes.
"Whatever the cause, Australia has produced results. Count on those results to continue," he wrote. "I like Australia, in truth. I like Australians. The country is beautiful, and the people are admirable. Good humor and genuine kindness seem a predominant characteristic.
"My biased opinion says that we will smash them like guitars. Historically, the U.S. has always risen to the occasion. But the logic in that remote area of my brain says it won't be so easy for the United States to dominate the waters this time."
Hall, who set an American record of 21.76 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle at the recent U.S. Olympic trials, won silver medals in the 50 and 100 meters at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
But he is coming off two tumultuous years. Hall was suspended for three months in 1998 after testing positive for marijuana, then was diagnosed last year with diabetes. He has to take up to eight insulin shots a day.
Perkins' comments come a week after Australian long jumper Jai Taurima attacked American competitors with a racial slur that forced Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates to apologize to the U.S. team.
Taurima said "you can pretty much knock out all the dark guys" from medal competition because of the cool weather expected at the Sydney Olympics, and ridiculed American jumpers as "dribblers."
Coates said Tuesday he was seeking a meeting with Perkins as soon as possible to discuss the comments about Hall.