A year out from the 1996 Olympics, Kieren Perkins' gold medal seemed the most certain Australian performance in Atlanta. 9 months later a gold for Perkins looked doubtful to say the least.
The Olympic trials were a disaster for Kieren Perkins. In the 200m he failed to even qualify for the final. In the B final he finished 7th. In the 400m (in which he is world record holder) he was beaten into 3rd place by the formerly unheard of Malcom Allen, and didn't make the team in that event.
Minutes after the race, a disconsolate Perkins said: "It is a difficult situation. It's not something I am accustomed to. The past six or seven years, I have always been in control. This time, I am not. I just don't know what's happening. It's scary, it's worrying. But I'm not just going to lie down and die... The Olympics was tough but this time I had a lot of doubt in my mind. Glen and Daniel were racing well and I had to prove myself. The lack of control I had made the pressure very difficult and I think it's showing."
When asked if he was motivated, Perkins answered: "Not right now. There is no reason, no excuse. I am capable of winning these events. I want to win and I expected to make the team in the 400 and 1,500m and it isn't happening."
Australia began to predict a humiliating defeat in his Olympic title event, the 1500m. Come the night of the final, Kieren attempted to lead from the start the way he had won many golds in the past. However, in the end he was caught and overtaken by the Atlanta gold medal favourite Daniel Kowalski. "I thought, this is terrible, I've got nothing left." But Kieren had beaten Barcelona silver medallist Glen Houseman, finished second, and made the Olympic team. Kieren had 3 months to become a gold medal contender again.
Consequent tests revealed Kieren had an iron imbalance and virus. "It's not looking good, we are running out of time here," said Perkins.
"I'm sure that once I overcome this problem my training and performances will be back to where they should be and I'm looking forward to being as close as possible to my best when I defend my 1,500 metres title."
For 2 weeks after the trials Kieren was so lethargic he could not train. Well before the trials Australian sports commentators had been questioning Perkins's motivation and recent comments from Kieren did little to quell the speculation.
"Throughout my swimming career I've always wished I had a fast forward button so that I could just hit that button and get to the end of it," he said. "I wish it was all over."
Unfortunately it looked more and more like Kieren's wish would soon be granted. Kieren lost most of his pre-Atlanta races with gold medal favourite Kowalski.