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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Gold Feat

Swimming: Thorpe more than lives up to the hype with two world records, including anchor leg of relay win over U.S.

September 17, 2000|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Reality did not disrupt the years of Ian Thorpe's daydream-believing in the swimming pool.

Incredibly, this was better than some fantasy on career day at school. Call it Ian's World.

Back when Thorpe's foot size was still measured in single digits, who would have believed he would win two Olympic gold medals--setting two world records, the second with three of his buddies in a relay to beat the favored Americans--all in front of his family, friends and country? An outsized feat for the 17-year-old Australian with size 17 feet?

Yeah, sure.

Thorpe did all this Saturday night on the first full day of competition at the Olympic Games, in about an hour. You wonder what he could do in two hours.

"It would have to be the best day of my life, the best hour, the best minute. I haven't gone to school for awhile, so I can't describe what it feels like," he said, smiling.

The draining day of emotion hardly dented Thorpe in the pool today. He joked Saturday night he would probably not be able to sleep, but a tired Thorpe is still capable of throwing down an Olympic record.

This morning, he went 1 minute 46.56 seconds in the 200-meter freestyle in the preliminaries, breaking the mark of 1:46.70 by Evgeny Sadovyi of the Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics. Thorpe holds the world record of 1:45.51, set here in May.

Thorpe's performance thrilled the home crowd, still absorbing the brilliance of the previous night. He raised a weary arm, acknowledging the loud applause. So far, Thorpe has met every expectation: two days and four races have yielded four records, two Olympic and two world.

His special touch was practically contagious as it started a flurry of records at the Sydney International Aquatic Center. Saturday morning, he started the avalanche with an Olympic record in the 400-meter freestyle.

At night, there were five world records in four events. Thorpe won the 400 freestyle in 3 minutes 40.59 seconds, breaking his previous mark of 3:41.33, set in May at this same home pool.

Yana Klochkova of Ukraine opened the session with a world record in the women's 400 individual medley in 4:33.59. Kaitlin Sandeno of Lake Forest was fourth. Klochkova's accomplishment was rendered almost a footnote--breaking the old record of 4:34.79 by Yan Chen of China in 1997--after Thorpe's individual win and world records, by the Australians in the men's 400 freestyle relay and the U.S. women in the 400 freestyle relay.

It was the first time the U.S. men lost a 400 freestyle relay at the Olympics or world competition.

The glory also belonged to American Jenny Thompson, who anchored the relay, as she won a record-tying sixth gold medal, all of them on relays. The team of Amy Van Dyken, Dara Torres, Courtney Shealy and Thompson recorded a world-record time of 3:36.61.

Thompson, 27, became the winner of the most gold medals by an American woman, and is tied with Kristin Otto for the most by a female swimmer.

"I don't feel any sense of history," Thompson said. "I think that was really a special time, and it's going to be hard to break."

Torres, 33, has won gold medals in Olympics 16 years apart--and Torres and Thompson became the first U.S. women to win gold medals in the same event three times. "I think you just appreciate it more," said Torres, who was teary-eyed on the medal stand. "I'm a strong person who never cries and I just lost it."

The final world record was by Australian Michael Klim, who went 48.18 in the opening 100-meter leg of the tension-filled relay, surpassing the 48.21 of his training partner, Russia's Alexander Popov, who recorded the mark in a June time trial. In fact, Thorpe was the one who told Klim he had broken Popov's record.

Klim was dubious.

Thorpe reassured him about the record and went out and got another one, swimming the anchor leg against Gary Hall Jr. The duel between Thorpe and Hall was sensational. Australia held the lead after three legs, and Hall took it back, leading with 50 meters remaining.

But Thorpe systematically cut away at Hall's lead and had the better finish, touching out Hall at the wall. The Australians, at 3:13.67, were well under the world record of 3:15.11 (set by the U.S. in 1995) and so were the Americans, at 3:13.86.

Hall thought the relay, which also featured Anthony Ervin of Valenica, Jason Lezak of Irvine and Neil Walker of Austin, Texas, was the best he had ever been a part of, saying: "The last 50 meters was rather painful. I went after it. This is the Olympics. I took it out as hard as I could hoping it would be there. I doff my swim cap to the great Ian Thorpe. He had a better finish than I did."

Thorpe jumped out of the pool to congratulate Klim and the others. Klim and a teammate pretended to play the air guitar, taking a shot at Hall, who made a reference in his Web diary to smashing the Australians "like guitars."

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