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Olympic greats together again after 17 short years

by ZwemZa on September 10th, 2017
Dutch swimming great Pieter van den Hoogenban poses at the pool where he won two Olympic gold medals. Picture: John Feder.

Dutch swimming great Pieter van den Hoogenban poses at the pool where he won two Olympic gold medals. Picture: John Feder.

The two great protagonists of the 2000 Olympics, Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband, have been reunited in Sydney as part of a Dutch documentary project.

Van den Hoogenband, who won the 100m and 200m freestyle at the Sydney Olympics, famously upstaging Thorpe in the 200m final, arrived in Sydney on Thursday and spent most of the afternoon with Thorpe filming for the documentary.

Their friendship has endured far beyond their rivalry but they had not met for almost a decade before this week.

“The last time was in Eindhoven when I retired after the Beijing Olympics (in 2008),’’ the Flying Dutchman said.

“Ian flew in as a surprise special guest and we had a couple of days together, which was very very special. It’s hard to believe that the Sydney Olympics was 17 years ago. We were so young and so passionate about swimming. I think what people saw when we raced each other that we really respected each other. I respected him as a swimmer and we needed each other for the competition. It made us both better.

“Ian said to me yesterday that the 200m freestyle race in Sydney helped him to train hard for another four years.”

Thorpe levelled the score at the Athens Games, winning the 200m from van den Hoogenband and newcomer Michael Phelps in what was dubbed the race of the century.

The Dutchman returned to the scene of his greatest triumph yesterday when he was inducted into the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre’s historical exhibition.

Van den Hoogenband’s bond with Sydney and Australia is so strong that he brought his wife Marie-Jose Crooijmans here two years ago, before proposing to her on Hamilton Island.

“I wanted to introduce her to Sydney because it is so special to me,’’ he said.

Both Thorpe and van den Hoogenband have gone into commentary in retirement and the Dutchman maintains an active interest in the events he dominated at the turn of the century.

He believes the time is right for the suit-enhanced world 100m freestyle record of 46.91sec to fall, in the wake of American Caeleb Dressel’s commanding victory at the world titles in a US record of 47.17sec.

H expects the Australian duo of Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers and Cameron McEvoy to be among the contenders to better Cesar Cielo’s time from the despised supersuit era.

“I hope that world record will be gone by Tokyo (the 2020 Olympics) because when we watch swimming and we see the world record is still there, I have mixed feelings. It’s not right that the record is still there. The world record in the 100m freestyle is very important and I am not happy that it’s from the (polyurethane) suit era. I want the best swimmer in the world to be the world record-holder.

“For me, James Magnussen was the world record-holder (after clocking 47.10sec at the 2012 Olympic trials) and then Cameron McEvoy (who swam 47.04sec at the 2016 Olympic trials) and now Caeleb Dressel is close.’’

Cate Campbell broke the women’s 100m record last year and Sarah Sjostrom improved it this year and the Dutchman said the men should take inspiration from that.

He put the challenge to the trio of Australian sprinters and Dressel to finally bring down the mark.

“I think it’s about time someone broke the world record and we closed the whole page on the shiny suits,’’ he said. “With Caeleb Dressel swimming so fast I hope it will motivate Kyle Chalmers and Cameron McEvoy to perform well and train hard and get there.’’

“We know McEvoy can swim that fast but unfortunately he didn’t do it in the Olympic final.’’

Van den Hoogenband maintains an interest in the Australian sprinters through his former coach Jacco Verhaeren, now Australia’s national head coach.

He said he tries to visit Verhaeren on the Gold Coast once a year. He also watched the Australian team with interest at the World Cup meet in Eindhoven last month, where he was tournament director, and he tipped young medley swimmer Clyde Lewis, the 2015 world junior champion, for higher honours.

Nicole Jeffery

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