Kieren's health improved, and despite a shoulder injury, a few weeks out from the Games Kieren's confidence was returning. We were told he was swimming fast times in training.
Then came the Olympics themselves. Kieren swam the heats of the 4x200m relay, but his performance was shocking. The selectors did not bother to include him in the final.
The public and media began to doubt Kieren still more. 1500 gold favourite Daniel Kowalski was featured in a Ford cars ad, proclaiming "Second is not an option". Kieren was no longer regarded as a medal chance of any colour.
Kieren was forced to watch a race he held the world record in - the 400m - from the stands, being won in a time nearly 6sec outside his world record. Kieren could not bear to watch the closing stages of the race and went to the back of the stand and looked out over the city. One of the coaches, Laurie Lawrence, thought he was going to jump off.
Then came the 1500m heats, which only underlined everyone's worst fears. Kieren started out okay, but by the 800m mark he was clearly struggling. He fell back in the field quickly, and was overtaken by 4 other swimmers. He managed to claw his way past German Steffe Zessner and come 4th in 15:21.42. Zessner did 15:21.65. If Kieren hadn't beaten Zessner he wouldn't have made the final.
Heat 5 1500m freestyle 25/07/96 Rank Athlete Country Time 1 AKATYEV, Aleksey Russian Federation[RUS] 15:16.47 2 BREMBILLA, Emiliano Italy[ITA] 15:16.72 3 HIRANO, Masato Japan[JPN] 15:19.48 4 PERKINS, Kieren Australia[AUS] 15:21.42 5 ZESNER, Steffen Germany[GER] 15:21.65 6 FORMENTINI, Marco Italy[ITA] 15:41.14 7 YASUI, Hisato Japan[JPN] 15:43.66 8 MASRY, Hicham Syrian Arab Republic[SYR] 16:42.35
Kieren to hang around on the pool deck for a few minutes to see if he'd qualified. Luckily he swam the 8th fastest time, and so was the slowest qualifier for the final.
"It was far too close for comfort," he said. "That was a hard swim."
Kieren's coach asked him what was wrong and Kieren said he couldn't breathe, got pains down his side, and couldn't make his turns properly. However the world was not told this until after the final next day.
The next day headlines such as KIEREN SINKS graced the front of Australian newspapers. 'The end is nigh,' concluded another front page article, meaning Kieren's career. Once "The Superfish", now Kieren was dubbed by the media "The Titanic of the Australian swim team". Kieren had swum 40 seconds outside his best time. Pretty much no one thought he'd win gold. A comeback of this magnitude was deemed impossible. Rather, most people thought he would come a painful and embarrassing last...
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