Ian Thorpe fails to qualify in freestyle

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe continues to struggle nearly a year into his swimming comeback, failing to qualify for the 100-meter freestyle Friday at the Victoria state titles after finishing seventh in his qualifying heat.

In his first competitive swim in Australia in more than five years, Thorpe had the 13th quickest time of 51.05 seconds, well behind fastest qualifier Matt Targett with 48.86.

A sluggish Thorpe turned last at the 50-meter mark and could only make up one place on the final lap, recording a slower time than the 50.84 he had in Italy last month and more than 2 seconds from his career best of 48.56 in 2004.

Thorpe said he has a lot of ground to make up.

"It's too slow for where I need to be in a couple of months' time," he said. "It's not a setback ... I think nothing of this.

"I'm happy with where I'm at in training. That hasn't translated into anything in competition yet, but a lot of people are reassuring me it will."

Thorpe, who hopes to swim at the Olympics for Australia and will compete in the national trials in March at Adelaide, will swim the 200 freestyle on Saturday, a distance considered his best chance of getting to London.

"I really wanted two swims today ... I'll have another swim tomorrow and hopefully I'll swim better in that," he said.

At the Italian winter championships last month, Thorpe finished 16th in the 100-meter freestyle and 10th in his first 200 freestyle race in almost six years and the first in a 50-meter pool.

The 29-year-old Thorpe came out of more than five years of retirement last February. In his first meets, Thorpe struggled at short course (25-meter pool) World Cup meets in Singapore, Beijing and Tokyo.

Thorpe retired in November 2006 after setting 13 world records and winning 11 world championship golds. He won the 200 and 400 free at the 2004 Athens Olympics in his last major international meet.