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Sunday, 4 August, 2002, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK

Party time down at the pool

By Charlie Henderson
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

Tickets to the swimming have been some of the hottest in town - quite literally.

There is the constant promise of home medals, the opportunity to see the one true global star of the Games and a sensational party atmosphere.

You can smell the whiff of chlorine from outside the Aquatics Centre, but that is where similarities with your local municipal end.

The temperature is sub-tropical, you just know the showers will work properly and the entertainment is not limited to a fat kid "bombing" a grandmother in the slow lane.

In stark contrast, entertainment is the buzzword poolside.

There is a fast and furious pace both in and out of the pool, with records to the fore.

Times are constantly being broken in the water, and a wide selection of vinyls help to create a breathtaking atmosphere in the stands.

As do English medals.

The musical odyssey from Aretha Franklin to Fatboy Slim is interjected by frequent performances on the playlist of Land of Hope and Glory.

Each home medal is greeted by flag-waving pomp and circumstance more readily associated with the last night of the Proms.

And the celebratory mood is understandable as England's attempts to make inroads into Australia's dominance in the water, and the fanfare of "Advance Australia Fair" in the stand, are increasingly successful.

Australia are the archetypal professionals of the pool.

The celebratory mood is consigned to the large contingent from down under in the stands.

By the pool, their swimmers possess an intimidating focus - so much so that even when Petria Thomas wins it is hard to see a smile.

And the green and gold also have Ian Thorpe - the biggest star of the Games.

If the entertainment alone is not reason enough to go to the swimming, Thorpe is. He is one of the greats of sport - at the age of 19.

Taking centre stage dressed in a full-length black suit, he possesses an aura that only adds to the whole occasion as you know all eyes are on him.

And as a swimmer it is as if Salvador Dali daubed him with genius.

In a whirl of arms and legs those around him appear to be going backwards as Thorpe, with seemingly less effort, but more grace, pulls away.

He is a commercial godsend to the sport and in conjunction with the home haul of medals he has made swimming the place to be at these Games.

At the Sydney Olympics British athlete Jonathan Edwards described his compatriot swimmers as "awful".

"They finish their competition and stay in the village and party for the rest of the Games," he declared.

"They are here to have fun - 90% of them can't win medals."

Edwards has high standards and at these Games he became only the third British athlete to hold all four major championship titles and the world record simultaneously.

But to disparage fellow athletes and to dismiss their professionalism with such contempt was misguided in the extreme.

British swimmers are winning medals and having fun at the same time - albeit in the second tier of international competition.

It is possible to win with a smile and the party at the pool is proof - even though it seems no one has told Petria Thomas.


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