It's a promoter' s dream; the world's two best swimmers -- American Michael Phelps and Australian Ian Thorpe -- at the same meet.
Unfortunately for organizers of the Melbourne World Cup short-course meet beginning today, the closest the two will come is crossing paths in the change rooms or having a chat poolside.
Phelps and Thorpe, holders of a combined eight 50m world records, will swim in eight events at the three-day meet in a 25m pool at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Center, but never in the same race.
The two could be the stars of the Athens Olympics next year, with Phelps tipped to equal or surpass Mark Spitz's seven gold swim medals at the Munich Olympics in 1972.
Phelps has been the star of the year, taking three individual gold medals at the Barcelona world championships and setting five world records. He has broken 11 individual career 50m records, eight of them this year.
Thorpe is the current Olympic and triple world champion in the 400 meters and holds three world marks in freestyle distances. He won three gold medals at Barcelona and until Phelps came into the spotlight this year, was the recognized top swimmer in the world.
Phelps, who says his main reason for competing here is to "find out where we are at" in training for Athens, was ever the diplomat when asked if he would have preferred to swim against Thorpe this weekend.
"I don't know if I came here expecting to. It's fun to race one of the world's top swimmers," said Phelps. "|But there is a time and place for everything."
When asked whether he and Thorpe were playing a game of cat and mouse, he replied, smiling: "I don't think so."
Thorpe pulled out of a race against Phelps on Wednesday night in Sydney at the Qantas Skins meet, citing a tough flight home from Flagstaff, Arizona, where his New South Wales state teammates were training.
Phelps will swim in the 200m butterfly and 100m individual medley today, the 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley tomorrow and the 100m butterfly on Sunday.
Thorpe is scheduled to race in the 100m freestyle today, 50m butterfly tomorrow and 50m freestyle on Sunday.