19 Sep 2000
The young star of the Australian swimming team was Ian Thorpe, who won his first international medal in 1997 at the age of 14 and was a double world champion the following year. Still aged only 17 by the time Sydney 2000 came around, he entered these Games against a backdrop of massive support from the home supporters and huge interest from the rest of the world.
It wasn't just about his swimming ability – it was also about his height, his unusually big feet and no less about his demeanour. Massively talented and very competitive, he was also unrelentingly friendly and cheerful. What was clear, to spectators and rivals alike, was that “The Thorpedo” would be tough to beat.
He was entered into five events – three relays and the 200m and 400m individual freestyle.
Thorpe began his Olympic career in sensational fashion, breaking the Olympic record for the 400m in qualifying with a time of 3 minutes 44.65 seconds, winning his heat by nearly four seconds and qualifying a second clear of the field.
That record lasted less than a day, as in the final Thorpe went even faster, leaving the field in his wake with more than a length to go to win by the extraordinary margin of 2.81 seconds. His official time of 3 minutes 40.59 seconds was a new Olympic and indeed world record. On his first day of Olympic competition, the teenager had got Australia's first gold medal of the Games. What a way to start.
The Thorpedo wasn’t done yet. That same day, there was an event which attracted even greater attention – the 4x100m freestyle relay, which had developed into a grudge match between the USA and Australia. The Americans had an outstanding record in the event, but Australia now boasted a formidable team and were backed by a fervent home support. The first three legs featured top-class swimming all round, with the hosts slightly ahead by the time Thorpe and the USA's Gary Hall dived into the pool for the decisive two lengths. Hall initially took the lead but Thorpe then reeled him in, passing the American with five or six strokes left to seal gold.
For Thorpe, it was the first day of a wonderful Olympic journey. He went on to take a silver medal in the 200m, another gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay and then a second silver in the medley relay.
In one week in the pool Thorpe had won five Olympic medals and the undivided attention of the world. Having arrived at the Games as a promising swimmer with a big reputation, he left them as a global superstar.