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Thorpe wins swimming 'race of the century'

Julian Linden | August 16, 2004 22:41 IST

Australia's Ian Thorpe won the gold medal in the men's 200 metres freestyle at the Athens Olympics on Monday.

He emerged triumphant in swimming's so-called "race of the century" in a time one minute 44.71 seconds -- just 0.65 outside the world record he set at the 2001 World Championships -- to claim his second gold in Athens after winning the 400 freestyle two days ago.

Ian ThorpePieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands, the gold medallist in Sydney four years ago, took silver in 1:45.23 while American Michael Phelps collected the bronze in 1:45.32.

Van den Hoogenband set out at a cracking pace, leading the field through the first 150 under world record pace.

He was still in front turning for home but Thorpe, who had been second all the way, mowed him down to win by half a body length.

Phelps, promised $1 million if he could win at least seven gold medals in Athens, was fourth after 50 but moved into third at the halfway stage and was not able to improve his position despite a late surge.

Thorpe, van den Hoogenband and Phelps are the three most recognisable faces in swimming and their first three-way clash was always going to be treated like a heavyweight prize-fight.

Thorpe won his first world title as a 15-year-old and won three gold two silver medals as a 17-year-old. He won a fourth gold in Athens when he successfully defended his 400 title on Saturday.

He has dominated the 200 over the past four years, winning the last two World Championships, but his only defeat came at the last Olympics when he finished second to van den Hoogenband, who also won the 100 in Sydney.


The flying Dutchman has failed to reach those dizzy heights since, settling for five silver medals at the past two world championships, but was the fastest qualifier for the final.

Phelps had not swum the 200 at a major international event before Athens but included it in his programme after announcing he would try and better Mark Spitz's record of winning seven gold medals at a single Olympics.

Unlike Thorpe and van den Hoogenband, Phelps was barely noticed in Sydney when he failed to win a medal competing as a 15-year-old but he made everyone sit up and take notice when he set five world records and won four gold medals at last year's world championships.

With the lure of a $1 million bonus if he could beat or equal Spitz's 1972 haul, Phelps won the 400 individual medley on Saturday before settling for a bronze when the U.S. suffered a shock loss to South Africa in Sunday's relay.

He always considered the 200 freestyle his most difficult race but insisted on competing in it because he wanted to prove himself against the best.

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