Van den Hoogenband shines bright during halcyon days in the pool

Pieter van den Hoogenband was part of a golden age in the pool when Australian Ian Thorpe was at his peak and an American teenager called Michael Phelps began to make his name – but the Dutchman still emerged with three Olympic titles.

Van den Hoogenband is the subject of the Olympic Channel’s second episode in the new season of Legends Live On, which will also feature athlete Hicham El Guerrouj, who won the 1,500/5,000m double at the Olympic Games 2004; six-time fencing champion Valentina Vezzali; and Uschi Disl, winner of nine biathlon medals over five Olympic Winter Games.

Born in Maastricht, Netherlands, Van den Hoogenband found swimming came naturally as a four-year-old in his parents’ pool, winning 400m freestyle gold at the 1994 European Junior Championships before two “horrible” fourth places over 100m and 200m freestyle at the Olympic Games Atlanta 1996 saw him resolve to “train smart” surrounded by a good team.

When he arrived in Sydney, all eyes were on Thorpe, but Van den Hoogenband triumphed over 200m to double up with the 100m title.

He travelled to Athens in 2004 to defend his titles and competed in the “Race of the Century” where he was overhauled by Thorpe to take silver ahead of Phelps. “I was a bit disappointed because I was the Olympic champion,” he said. “But there are not many swimmers who can touch ahead of Michael Phelps at the Olympics.” He was not going to relinquish his 100m title, though, and succeeded by just 0.06secs.

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He retired after Beijing 2008 to end his Olympic career with three golds among seven medals in total, before taking up a job with Eiffel, a Dutch professional services organisation, while remaining active in the sport and taking on commentating duties.