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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 August, 2004, 06:51 GMT 07:51 UK
Thorpe steals Phelps' thunder
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

It was billed as the greatest swimming race of all time - and the Olympic men's 200m freestyle final just about lived up to its billing.

But less than two hours after taking his second gold of the Athens Games, Ian Thorpe was already talking about renewing rivalries with Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps in 2008.

"I hope we are all swimming in the event in Beijing," said Thorpe.

"I said to Pieter that I'd like to race him again.

RACE OF THE CENTURY
The 200m freestyle medalists
1. Ian Thorpe (Aus), 1min 44.71sec
2. Pieter van den Hoogenband (Ned), 1:45.23
3. Michael Phelps (USA), 1:45.32
4. Klete Keller (USA), 1:46.13
5. Grant Hackett (Aus), 1:46.56
6. Rick Say (Can), 1:47.44
7. Simon Burnett (Gbr), 1:48.02
8. Emiliano Brembilla (Ita), 1:48.40

"Michael should still be swimming in Beijing. It would be a great race."

Phelps was hot property going into the Olympics, the swimmer who would pocket US$1m if he eclipsed Mark Spitz's incredible tally of seven golds in a single Games.

But Thorpe looks like emerging as the real star.

The 21-year-old from Sydney, who has size 17 feet and stands 6ft 5in tall, is on the verge of setting an Olympic record of his own, the first man to hold the 400m, 200m and 100m freestyle titles simultaneously.

He already has the first two tucked safely beneath his giant all-in-one body suit.

Now it is the 100m that is in his sights - and who would bet against the 'Thorpedo' claiming a third gold and sporting immortality?

The feat would certainly put Phelps into the shade.

I swam the race the way I train to swim races
Ian Thorpe

It has been hard for the American.

While he has been forced to fend off almost endless questions about his assault on a possible eight gold medals, Thorpe has refused to burden himself with too much expectation.

He has avoided any grand predictions and has refused to stoke up the rivalry between himself and Phelps, insisting the only performance that matters is his own.

Given the hype that surrounded the 200m freestyle, that was a tough undertaking.

"It was the final that excited a lot of people," admitted Thorpe.

"This has been played out on three continents in the lead-up to the Olympic Games, so it became a big deal.

"But I wasn't focused on that. I really wanted to concentrate on what I was trying to do, make sure I swam the race well.

Ian Thorpe

"I was able to do that. For me, that's how I approach my races and why I have been able to be successful in the past. I don't worry about what my competitors are doing."

Van den Hoogenband set a storming pace as he attempted to defend the title he won in Thorpe's back yard four years ago.

But Thorpe stayed within striking distance, a perfect turn on the final wall providing him with the impetus to pass his Dutch rival and take gold.

"I swam the race the way I train to swim races," said Thorpe, who set a new Olympic record on his way to victory.

"I stuck to my plan. It became something that was almost mathematical, where you have no emotion and let your body do what you have trained it to do."

Thorpe is the consummate professional in all he does.

Phelps, who took bronze behind Thorpe and van den Hoogenband in a new American record, is certainly impressed and says his Aussie foe is the perfect role model.

"He is one of the greatest middle distance swimmers of all time, if not the greatest," said Phelps.

"Seeing how he handles everything is definitely a learning experience."

Aged just 19, Phelps is cottoning-on quick and deserves plenty of credit for the way he has conducted himself under the blinding glare of the media spotlight.

It has certainly been an intense few weeks for the teenager from Baltimore.

And by refusing to rule out another tilt at Spitz's record, he has ensured he remains firmly in the limelight.





Links to more Swimming stories


 

VOTE RESULTS
Who is the bigger swimming star?
Michael Phelps - the more accomplished all-rounder
11%
Ian Thorpe - the Aussie who continues to amaze
74%
Can't choose between them - both are supreme athletes
15%
55355 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed




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