There are 4 articles on this page:

Swim of the Century
Perkins wins gold!
Aussie Quinella
World salutes a great swimmer

  
Swim of the century  
Sunday Tasmanian SUN 02 AUG 1992
By Wayne Smith
 

KIEREN PERKINS' greatest 1500 metres freestyle swim might also have been his last.

Only Perkins and his coach John Carew know how much pain and sacrifice and plain hard work went into producing a 14:43.48 clocking which might very well stand as the world record for the remainder of this century, but neither believes they could go through it all over again.

"I want to go to the next Olympics in Atlanta, but whether it's to swim the 1500 metres, who knows?" said Perkins after his epic and, in the opinion of Australian head coach Don Talbot, revolutionary swim.

"I may not have the motivation to handle all the training that is involved in the 1500 metres. It is a very tough event and it would be extremely difficult to repeat the effort that went into this swim." There will be no arguments from Carew, the gentlemanly, much-underestimated coach who took Perkins on when he was a scrawny nine-year-old, taught him the Murray Rose stroke and turned him into the greatest distance swimmer the world has ever seen.

"I'm quite happy for Kieren not to be a 1500 metres swimmer," said Carew, still pale-faced from all the nervous energy he expended in the stands while Perkins was expending his physical energy.

"He wants to have a bit of a life and, frankly, so do I. Coaching him for the 1500 metres is extremely time-consuming and I haven't had a holiday for three years.

"I think he can be the best 400 metres swimmer in the world. We were a little unlucky with the 400 metres here, but now he can really set some good world records in the event." Talbot might have been expected to vehemently oppose any move by Perkins to ditch the event he single-handedly has taken to a new plateau. Instead, he is strongly in favour of the idea.

"This sounds rather cold-blooded, but Australia will get more value out of Perkins for a whole lot longer if he is swimming the 200 metres and 400-metres freestyle," Talbot said.

"He might think he won't have to work as hard, but he will. But it will be a different kind of work and it will be enough of a change to keep him in the sport.

"What he will have to change most of all is his body shape. He will need to build up a little." What Perkins will not want to change is his mental toughness and focus. No other Australian athlete came to these Games burdened by anything even remotely resembling the pressure on Perkins to win gold.

The fact that he not only won, but won with a performance which had the whole world agog speaks volumes for his maturity.
While he was always outwardly calm, however, Perkins admitted there were moments when he was close to panic.

"A lot of times, I just wanted to hide in a corner," he said. "How do I feel now? Very relieved. I'm so glad it's all over.
"If I didn't get the gold medal, I didn't want to go home. But I guess I put the pressure on myself by doing those times (400 metres and 1500 metres world records) at the Olympic selection trials."

Asked by a French journalist why it was that Australia had such a tradition in distance freestyle - Perkins is Australia's fifth gold medallist in the event, but the first since Robert Windle in 1964 - the 18-year-old gave an answer of remarkable insight.
"Maybe it is something in our background," he said. "Australians have had to work very hard for everything we've got. And not just work hard, but work harder for longer." Those historical and genetic and mental factors all came to be focused on a stretch of water 50 metres long and two metres wide.

While the other seven finalists were all crouched on the blocks before the start, Perkins remained standing, fixedly gazing down the pool, almost as if commanding it to submit to his will.

Within a minute of the gun sounding, the question of who would win what had been billed, deservedly, as the 1500 metres race of the century, had been answered. Perkins had turned the event not into a race to the death against Germany's Jorg Hoffmann and Australian team-mate Glen Housman but a straightforward race against the clock.
Fully a year ago, he and Carew had first spoken of adopting such outrageously bold tactics but few people genuinely believed they would be so audacious as to actually employ them at the Olympics.

Hoffmann didn't believe it, especially when he saw that Perkins would be swimming three other events here. The German was convinced the young Australian would be so worn out by his earlier swims that he would sit back conservatively for the first half of the race and then attempt to kick clear.

That is what conventional logic would have dictated was the sensible course. To turn the race into a one-man time trial would be to walk the tightrope without a safety net. If something went wrong, Perkins would have no reserves to fall back on.
The risk he would take was high-lighted two events earlier in the program. Australian 200 metres butterflyer Susan O'Neill led her race at a pace which would have destroyed Mary T. Meagher's 11-year-old world record, and held it for 150 metres.

But as she turned for home and tried to plant the accelerator, the yellow fuel gauge warning suddenly turned red. She had nothing left in the tank when Summer Sanders and Xiaohong Wong came at her over the final 25 metres.

Yet Perkins is no conventional swimmer and Carew is no conventional coach. They believed in their meticulous preparation for these Olympics.

They believed that what they were about to attempt was possible.

And they went about showing that it was.

Perkins' 400 metres split, 3:51.59, would have placed him 10th in the individual 400 metres event. His 800 metres split, 7:48.27, was the third fastest time in history. Only he has gone faster.

By the time he finished, 4.92 seconds had been lopped from the world record - even after he had slowed marginally for a mid-race breather.

It was left to Russian Vladimir Salnikov, the man who revolutionised 1500 metres swimming during the 1980s to make the definitive assessment of the swimmer.

"I wouldn't say it was the perfect race, but it was the perfect race for the Olympics," Salnikov said. "He got away from the others and never gave them the chance to catch him." And maybe the world will never get a second chance.

 Kieren's 14:43.48 world record would have well outlasted the millenium - if he himself had not broken it again. It remains today as the Olympic record. Kieren was soon back to swimming his pet distance events.

PERKINS WINS GOLD!  
COURIER-MAIL,  SAT 01 AUG 1992, Page 001
  
        KIEREN Perkins rewrote swimming history in Barcelona this morning with a magnificent record-breaking Olympic gold medal in the 1500m.

In the greatest distance race in Olympic swimming history, the Brisbane champion took 4.92sec off his own world record to demolish the much-vaunted German Jorg Hoffmann.

Rockhampton hero Glen Housman followed the unbeatable Perkins to take the silver medal unchallenged.

In an incredible feat of speed and endurance, Perkins burned off the rest of the field and won by more than 10m.

"It was the perfect race,'' said a surprisingly composed Perkins as he waited for the victory ceremony, Waltzing Matilda reverberating in the grandstands above him. "I will probably get in trouble because I slackened off in the middle but when I knew I was ahead, I wasn't interested in smashing records. I just wanted to stay there.

"I put in a lot of hard work in training and I don't have much time for much else.

"It's a big sacrifice but it's worth it. I'm very proud.''

Bronze medallist Hoffmann, anxious to correct the arrogant image he projected at the world championships in Perth last year, has said he wants to have a beer with Perkins as soon as the swimming is over.

"Relief is the only word I can say,'' Perkins, 18, of Kenmore, said.

"I knew I had to get out there fast.

"I could hear the crowd cheering. After the 500 I knew I had won the race.

"Australia, thank you very much for your support.''

Brisbane's brave Susie O'Neill won bronze in the 200m butterfly and Victorian Nicole Stevenson won bronze in the 200m backstroke.
Australia had a total of 14 medals - four gold, five silver and five bronze - before Australian cyclist Kathy Watt's 3000m individual pursuit final this morning. Watt is guaranteed at least a silver.

Australian Olympic head swimming coach Don Talbot described Perkins' astounding victory as a "revolution in 1500m swimming''.

"There was no race - he did it all on his own,'' Talbot said.

Talbot said he and Perkins' coach, John Carew, had "beaten into'' the champion that he must not weaken during the middle of the race.

"A good 1500m swimmer like Jorg Hoffmann can sense when you are not right so he had to stay strong through the middle of the race. He did slacken off a bit but we might forgive him.''

At the finish, Perkins raised a fist in the air and looked at the scoreboard to see his incredible 14min43.48sec record, five seconds under the 14min48.40sec world record he set 11 weeks before the Olympics. Housman was second in 14min55.29sec, just 0.04sec outside his personal best, to give Australia its first 1500m Olympic quinella since John Konrads and Murray Rose at the 1960 Rome Games.

With 400m to go, Perkins was 4.38sec under world record pace, turning in 10min46.28sec, and was more than five seconds under the pace with 300m left. Hoffmann was by then almost half a lap behind.

In the final 300m Housman tried to make a move on Perkins, but there was never a chance. With 100m to go, Perkins turned up the volume as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Before the start, Perkins and Hoffmann refused to look at each other as they matched up for the most anticipated race of the games.

Perkins made his customary fast start, completing the first 100m in 55.30sec, 0.31sec outside his world record split, leaving Hoffmann and Housman over a body length behind. He completed the second 100m in under world record pace in opening up a two-length lead, before leaving Hoffmann and Housman trailing by 10m through the third 100m.

At the 500m mark, Perkins turned in 4min50.59sec, two seconds under the world record pace, and he showed no signs of easing.

It was clear it would have taken a superhuman effort to overhaul the easy-stroking Perkins, who led by 15m at the 700m mark.

 

AUSSIE QUINELLA  
Herald Sun, SAT 01 AUG 1992
        
AT last, the gold medal which Kieren Perkins needed to make himself complete is his.

In an awe-inspiring display of power, Perkins turned the race of the Olympics into a one-man show to take the 1500m freestyle gold which has possessed him for the past two years.

In the process, the 18-year-old Queenslander turned what is considered the most gruelling of distance events into a virtual sprint by smashing his own world record by an astonishing 4.92sec with an unbelievable swim of 14.43.48.

And for only the sixth time in Olympic history, Australia claimed a quinella as the "forgotten man", Glen Housman, claimed the silver. That last happened in 1960 when Jon Konrads and Murray Rose went 1-2 in the same event.

Housman, in the gutsiest display of his life, left German arch-rival Jorg Hoffmann trailing 10m behind as he clocked 14.55.29.

Hoffmann, demoralised, could do no better than 15.02.29, but he showed tremendous bravery in defeat, swimming over to hug first Perkins, then Housman.

"It was the perfect race," said a surprisingly composed Perkins as he waited for the victory ceremony, Waltzing Matilda reverberating in the grandstands above him.

"I will probably get in trouble because I slackened off in the middle but when I knew I was ahead, I wasn't interested in smashing records. I just wanted to stay there." But head swimming coach Don Talbot said he and Perkins' coach, John Carew, "might forgive" their charge for weakening.

Talbot described the astounding victory as a "revolution in 1500m swimming".

"There was no race - he did it all on his own," Talbot, who coached Konrads to his 1960 gold medal triumph.

Housman said he was happy with his silver after giving it his "best shot".

"Aussie Superfish" proclaimed the huge banner in front of the crowd, and that description applied equally to Perkins and Housman.

Even the Spanish crowd was drawn into the excitement. As the announcer called out how far Perkins was under the world record at each turn, there was a new burst of frenzied cheering.

As the strains of Advance Australia Fair wafted across the Games pool for the first and only time at these Games, Perkins looked as much relieved as delighted.

Through the long months leading up to these Games, he has been weighed down by the hopes and expectations of a nation but today he laid his heavy burden down, mission completed.

Wherever he looked from the victory dais, Perkins could see Australian and boxing kangaroo flags. Every Australian in Barcelona, it seemed, had scrounged, begged, borrowed or stolen tickets to the swimming.

"Nice Won Aussie" shouted one banner, summing up the feelings of a nation.

Sharing the moment with him as they have shared all the sacrifice, worry and work were Perkins' beaming parents, Kevin and Gloria.

Three days earlier, Mrs Perkins had sat wrapped in a boxing kangaroo flag while her son had swum under the world record in the 400m freestyle but still been relegated to the silver by the Unified Team's Evgueni Sadovyi.

They had shared the same mixed feelings with him 19 months earlier in Perth at the world championships when he also had shattered a world record, this one for the 1500m, but Hoffman denied him the gold.

And they have suffered with him when he was only nine, the night they found him lying on the ground at their suburban house, a 20cm glass lance embedded in his left calf after he had run through a sliding door while chasing his younger brother Jared.
The doctors prescribed swimming as therapy for his ghastly injuries and when Perkins looks interviewers right in the eye and tells them he took up the sport by accident, he isn't kidding.

Also sharing the moment was the man who moulded him into the greatest distance freestyler the world has seen, his craggy, laconic coach, John Carew.

It was Carew who taught him the same long, languid stroke which, almost two decades earlier he had taught that other legendary Queensland distance freestyle champion, Steve Holland.

 

World salutes a great swimmer
-Our Kieren is the toast of Barcelona

COURIER-MAIL, MON 10 AUG 1992  
 
  
AS Barcelona's Olympic pool erupted with a mixture of delight and awe at Kieren Perkins' epic 1500m win, over in one corner of the stadium came a special but unexpected tribute.

The US swimming team rose to their feet and saluted as the Brisbane distance king had the gold medal draped around his neck.

"When a man does that, you just stand and salute,'' one US coach said.

In slashing his world record by almost 5sec to 14min 43.48sec, Perkins did more than simply grab the gold medal Australia, if not the world, had expected.

He also put his name firmly among the sport's greats.

"Probably the best swim I've seen over the last 20 years,'' Dawn Fraser said.

Vladimir Salnikov, the great Russian who had been the first to go under 15 minutes and winner of the race in 1980 and 1988, labelled it as the "perfect race for the Olympics''.

Mike O'Brien, the American who won the Los Angeles 1500m in 1984, described the Queenslander as "the greatest distance swimmer we've seen''.

Perkins simply annihilated the opposition.

The expected "battle of Barcelona'' against German Joerg Hoffman was all but decided when Perkins opened up a body length lead in the first of the 30 laps of the Bernat Picornell pool.

He finished just under 12sec in front of fellow Australian Glen Housman, giving Australia its first "quinella'' in the race since Murray Rose and John Konrads in Rome in 1960.

Hoffman, who had beaten Perkins in their epic Perth world championship showdown, was 19sec away third.

To give a further insight, accomplished British swimmer Ian Wilson, who trailed 30sec back, turned to start the final lap as Perkins hit the finish wall.

But just how good is Perkins?

"Kieren can do anything,'' former world record-holder Stephen Holland said.

"He can go 14min 40sec no problems. Even lower. He didn't have a worry and broke Hoffman's spirit and heart.''

Holland, who now lives on the Gold Coast, was a key figure in the massive record drops of the 1500m during the 1970s.

Between 1973 and 1976 he set four world marks. His first (Brisbane, 1973) lowered the standard 15sec to 15min 37.80sec.

His fourth (Sydney 1976) was 15min 10.89sec, 10sec inside the previous best.

But still he had to settle for a bronze behind American Brian Goodall at Montreal in 1976 in 15min 4.66sec.

When Rose won in Melbourne 20 years earlier, his time had been 17min 58.90sec. Konrads set a new Olympic mark of 17min 19.60sec in Rome.

Such comparisons are somewhat unrealistic, how- ever.

Would Rod Laver, for instance, have beaten Boris Becker or Stefan Edberg? Time, technique and scientific expertise march on.

"There are parallels in that we both swam for Australia and both won the 1500m, but comparisons don't really work,'' Rose said from his Los Angeles base.

"We both achieved in our time.''

Rose, who says the pressure on modern swimmers was far greater than in his time, described the performance as Perkins' "mission''.

He had sat down with Perkins five months earlier in Melbourne and discussed what lay ahead in Barcelona.

"He followed it all through and made a statement right away with his fast start that this was his race, his time,'' Rose said.

Former Olympic 100m champion John Devitt said Perkins was "a great swimmer . . . as good as we've ever produced''.

"I've seen them all since 1952,'' Devitt said. "Rose set new standards, as did Konrads and then Salnikov.

"Now Perkins has set the standard everyone will be trying to emulate.''

Devitt said Perkins was now "king of the pool'', just as his predecessors had been in their day.
"Now with Perkins and Housman we have got back to that time when we dominated,'' he said. "But there will always be someone who comes along and swims faster.''

Fraser, too, does not like to compare eras.

"Kieren is Kieren,'' the Australian swimming great said.
"Comparisons are unfair on everyone concerned. In those days Rose was the greatest we had. Now we have Perkins.''

Fraser said the 1500m was one of the easiest events in which to set records, but it was still a "fantastic performance''.
"It was probably the best swim I've seen over the last 20 years,'' Fraser said. "He got faster as he went on.''

Salnikov, a man of few words, sat in the stands as he watched Perkins do what he had done to his rivals in Seoul in 1988 and eight years before that in Moscow - only faster.

"It was very impressive,'' Salnikov said.

"I would not say it was perfect, but it was perfect for the Olympics. He gave no-one a chance. He demoralised them.''

Holland knows better than most the hype and public expectation Perkins will now face.

He also sympathises with Perkins' comments about moving over to the 200m and 400m, in which he narrowly missed gold two days before his 1500m triumph.

"I can understand it,'' he said. "When you train for the 1500m you are spending seven hours a day with your head in a bucket. It's a lonely sport.''

 

ARTICLE INDEX - HOME - NEXT ARTICLE - PREVIOUS ARTICLE