Invincible for a decade in the 1,500m freestyle, and holder of the world record over the same period, Grant Hackett won consecutive Olympic golds over his favourite distance in 2000 and 2004, something which only two swimmers - Mike Burton (1968 and 1972) of the USA, and his fellow Australian Kieren Perkins (1992 and 1996) - had achieved previously.
Born in the Australian surfing mecca of Southport, Queensland, Grant Hackett started competing in the pool at the age of 12, under the watchful gaze of top Australian coach Denis Coterell. The youngster quickly showed his potential as a freestyle swimmer over all the full gamut of distances, from 200m to 1,500m. At 17, he struck triple gold at the 1997 Pan Pacific Championships in Japan, winning the 1,500m, 800m and 400m freestyle finals; in the latter he scored his first, and last, victory over his younger compatriot Ian Thorpe. The 1,500m freestyle was to become his signature race, and from that moment on he remained undefeated every event he competed in right up until 2007.
At Sydney 2000, the Australian swimming team were treated like rock stars by an adoring local public, who ensured the atmosphere at Homebush Bay reached fever pitch on a daily basis. By this stage Hackett had already won loads of World Championship titles, and was expected to enjoy further glory at his first Olympic Games. However, in the middle of September, he was hit by a bad virus which left him severely weakened, and he finished way off the pace in the 200m and 400m freestyle finals. Meanwhile, his slow leg in the 4x200m freestyle relay heats meant he was dropped from the quartet for the final. Hackett’s Games were in danger of fizzling out, but then on the last day in the pool, he took his place for the final of the 1,500m freestyle. He was up against compatriot Kieren Perkins, double Olympic champion, 1,500m freestyle world record holder, and the swimmer he considered his main role model. Launching into a high tempo right off the starting block, the younger Australian led from start to finish, and as he touched the wall in 14.48.33, five seconds ahead of Perkins, causing the home crowd to explode into wild applause. Because of his participation in the 4x200m heats, Hackett was also awarded a gold “in absentia”, as his team-mates won the relay final in a world-record beating time.
At the 2001 World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka (JPN), Hackett claimed silver in the 400m and 800m freestyle, finishing behind Thorpe on each occasion. But in the final of the 1,500m he was untouchable, finishing in 14.34.56 to shave more than seven seconds off Perkins’ world record. It would be another decade before anyone managed a faster time in the event.
On 21 August 2004, in Athens, Hackett successfully retained his Olympic 1500m freestyle title, beating his own Olympic record in the process with a time of 14.43.40. He also took silver in the 400m freestyle, behind Thorpe. Four years later in Beijing, he made a failed bid to qualify for the 10km marathon, which had been included in the Olympic programme for the first time. He then turned his focus to securing a historic treble in the final of the 1,500m freestyle, his specialist event, in which he had amassed 10 world titles. However, he was pipped at the finish by Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli, who touched the wall 69 hundredths of a second ahead of him. That last silver in Beijing took his overall Olympic medal tally to seven, at which point he retired from swimming to divide his time between TV commentating and a career in finance.
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