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September 24, 2000
US still rules the poolMichael Perry
American swimmers emerged dripping from the Sydney Olympic pool on Saturday with their world crown firmly in place, having left the rival Australians in a 14-gold medal wake.
"We were able to use the threat of being dethroned as the world's best swimming nation to reach a level we might not have otherwise reached," said Gary Hall, after anchoring the U.S. men's 4x100 medley relay team to gold.
"America was down in swimming before and in this competition we were forced to rise -- swim faster or be left behind," Hall said.
After a sizzling performance at the Pan Pacific Championships in Perth earlier in the year, the Australian swim team entered the Sydney Games favoured to topple the U.S. team as number one.
But Australia ended with only five gold medals, after stars Michael Klim, Susie O'Neill and Ian Thorpe, all world champions, were beaten in their own pool.
On the eve of the Sydney Olympics the Australian-US rivalry flared. Hall declared the Americans would smash the Australians like guitars, while Australia's 1500 metre star Keiren Perkins countered, dismissing Hall as a drug cheat, referring to the American's three month ban for marijuana.
On day one Australia got off to a great start, with Ian Thorpe snaring the 400 freestyle. The Australian men's 4x100 metres relay team dealt the Americans a crushing defeat - it was the first time the American men's 4x100 relay team had been beaten at an Olympics.
But soon the Australians began to falter and while the Americans began winning gold, other nations like the Netherlands, led by Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn, began hauling in the medals.
"When you face a worthy opponent it forces you to get your act together and step up," Hall said. "We have put our differences (with the Australians) aside and there has been this competitive spirit, but in a very positive way.
"I have a ton of admiration and respect for not only the Australian crowd, but the Australian competitors," he said.
The American swimmers said the closeness of the U.S. Olympic team in Sydney was a major factor behind the gold medal tally.
"We felt like the underdogs," said Jenny Thompson, who won three relay golds for United States.
"If you looked at it on paper it looked like we would win only one (women's) gold medal and we swam way past that," Thompson said.
"But we have the best team for many, many years. We have a lot of heart. We swim with tremendous spirit. I think Americans have a way of pulling through," she said.
Perkins believes that for Australia to seriously challenge the Americans for their swimming crown it must gain more depth and win not only gold but the minor medal placings.
"There has been so much hype. If we are going to take the number one spot we need to pick up the minor placings and dominate the field like the Americans," Perkins said.
Still hope lives eternal. Australia won five gold, eight silver and four bronze in Sydney -- its best medal tally since Munich in 1972 - and its swim stars have not given up on one day dethroning the Americans.
"This nation is only going to get stronger and better. Everyone wants to be on the Australian swim team," said Grant Hackett who won the 1500 freestyle gold.
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