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September 15, 2000
US team thrills to the big clashJulian Linden
America's swimmers are licking their lips at the prospect of racing the Australians in their own Olympic pool.
While some might be daunted by the idea of competing in front of a capacity hostile crowd, the United States are relishing the thought of racing in a country which treats its swimmers like rock stars.
"I always say that Australia is like swimming heaven," said American sprint queen Jenny Thompson. "This is the country that gives our sport respect."
Although the U.S. is easily the most successful nation in swimming, its athletes are rarely mentioned outside the Olympics because of the massive coverage given to professional sports.
Thompson already has five Olympic gold medals but is virtually unknown at home. She did make the headlines a month ago but only after she took off her swimsuit to pose naked.
Things are very different in Australia where swimming is considered a major sport. Big international meets are shown live on television and newspapers dedicate pages to covering the sport and its stars.
The top swimmers, like Ian Thorpe, Kieren Perkins and Susan O'Neill are household names in Australia, regularly appearing in television commercials.
Tom Dolan, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder in 400 metres medley, said the Americans were relishing all the attention.
"You have to understand in the U.S., we're way down the ladder in popularity," Dolan said.
"We had so much fun even in training camp looking at the papers every day and seeing that swimming is on not just the cover of the sport section but the cover of the paper.
"That's such a different experience for us."
The build-up to the eight-day swimming programme has been given added spice because of the rivalry between the Americans and Australians.
The U.S. has finished as the leading swimming nation at almost every previous Olympics but the Australians are confident that with the home pool advantage they can come out on top this time.
Interest in the swimming events is so high that each of the eight finals sessions at the 17,500-seat acquatic centre are sold out despite the high prices.
"We're thriving on it because we are going to be the biggest part of the show," Dolan said.
"Our meeting is going to be the best thing of the whole Olympics and we just love it."
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