The Sunday Telegraph, July 28 1996

King Kieren- Now for Sydney

Kieren Perkins is the greatest swimmer in the world. So says his coach. So says Australia.

An emotional John Carew, not a man given to hyperbole or needless praise, abandoned restraint last night as he sought for words to describe the courage and willpower which went into Perkins' amazing defence of his 1500m title.

Revealing for the first time the reason Perkins almost met with disaster in the heats- the triple world record holder was suffering severe abdominal cramps- Carew said sheer guts had carried Perkins to the gold.

Perkins ignored all his problems- his poor lead-up form, his terrible health at the Olympic trials, the inner doubts which every intelligent champion knows- and forced himself to repel all challenges to his crown.

"As far as I'm concerned right now, I'm going to swim to 2020 and win the 1500 at each one", he laughed.

"I'm definitely going for 3. That was the goal in 1991 when I was just starting out and that's still the goal."

But Perkins revealed that his victory yesterday had been based on sheer, unadulterated bluff.

"Yeah, quite a lot of it was bluff", he said on his tactics of leading out so boldly the the others though the old, unbeatable Perkins was suddenly back.

"I was prepared to put everything on the line. It was gold or nothing as far as I was concerned, and if that meant dying a very painful death at the 1000m mark, then so be it."

"I swam that race on instinct and guts. But this is the Olympics. You put everything on the line. Everything."

"I convinced myself it was going to happen. There was nothing more to it. I completely brainwashed myself into thinking it was mine."

Perkins now stands level with the great Vladimir Salnikov with 2 Olympic golds apiece.

But right from the moment he broke his first world record in 1991, the young Australian dedicated himself to become the first swimmer in history to win 3 consecutive golds in swimming's toughest event.

Carew however, felt no reason to wait till Sydney 2000 to bestow the ultimate accolade on the man who first came into his life 14 years ago, as a scared 8 year old carried into Carew's pool by his parents, to begin rehabilitation for a horrendous leg gash caused when he ran through a closed sliding glass door.

"Kieren Perkins is the greatest distance swimmer of all time", Carew said.

"Tonight was the hardest race I've ever had" said Perkins. "It was the hardest mentally. In Barcelona I just got in there and did it. I was an 18 year old who knew how to swim fast, whereas tonight I knew what could go wrong and what could go right."

Perkins has swum fast than his 14:56.40 gold medal clocking so many times, that ultimately it will become lost in the statistical crowd.

Yet never has he swum smarter, better or more courageously.

There was only one way he could defend his title, by utterly demoralising the field, thrusting his invincibility in the faces of his rivals so that ultimately they forgot all about challenging him for the gold and left him in peace.

Not that Perkins ever experienced any peace during the race.

"I was in agony after 500m, but I just refused to give up. I just had to do it."

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