As Seen on Fox Sports Central, Fox Sports 2, March 16 2001

 

The Host, Duncan Armstrong: Now today's guest has been somewhat of an enigma in Australian sport. His 2nd consecutive 1500m freestyle gold in Atlanta is etched into the minds of every single Australian. We've heard about the awards, medals and records he's trained for and won, but let's hear about the man himself. Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome, Mr...Kieren...Perkins!

[Crowd cheers, for a long time]

Kieren Perkins: Thankyou.... thankyou.....thankyou.....

Duncan: You must get this everywhere you go.

Kieren: Well, not quite that, but I do get some recognition here and there, which is great, it's one of the things you find very humbling as an athlete, because I have, as you said, spent my life training and trying to win races and break records and, to consider that what I've done has actually had an effect on the public at large, it's incredible, you don't train for that, and when that kind of thing comes around, it's an honour.

D: Looking back on such an amazing swimming career, is there any one race, is there any one swim which you're incredibly proud of, where you almost got it completely right?

K: I actually generally break that up into two categories, 'cos I have a bit of trouble nailing down just one. The 1500's been my event, it's what I've always trained for and loved but...well because of that, Atlanta is the one, all the pressure, and just how difficult it was getting there, scraping into the final, and then coming up with the win at the last gasp, I mean that was the one swim that tested my mental..tested how strong a competitor I was

D: Illustrated the person you were?

K: [thinks] ...The athlete definitely.

My best ever performance though, was the 400 at the World Championships in Rome in '94.

D: -3:43?

K: ...yeah, world record.

I don't know where that swim came from, and when I sit and look at it, it was a perfect swim, it was the fastest I could have possibly done.

D: ...And the world championships is the place to do it, no good at Saturday morning workout...

K: ..it is, it is!

D: Now when did you know this was what people would know you for, you were going to be the greatest 1500m swimmer in the world, was it when you first met John Carew, was it after kindergarten, your first swimming lesson?

K: Heh heh!...

Actually it took me a long time, because you know what it's like when you're young, all the events are short. You start at 25, 50 then up to 100 and 200... and I didn't swim my first 1500 'till I was 14. And I hadn't shown any talent in any other events...they just weren't long enough for me! [grins] And I jumped into this first 1500 and I had this dual with this guy...

D: ...Remember his name?

K: It was Kurt Eldridge... you'd know Kurt...

I had this dual, the 2 of us at the state distance championships. We fought that battle long and hard, we were basically neck and neck the entire way, and we both got under 16 minutes, which, for our age, was a pretty good time. And I loved it! I enjoyed the racing, I enjoyed the tactical aspect, it wasn't just a matter of getting in there, throwing the arms over as hard as you could, you really had to think about where you're placing yourself and how you attack the race. And that was how I fell in love with 1500s! but I guess it probably wasn't until the age group championships the next year I swam a 15:20, which sort of made me competitive on a national level, and the Commonwealth Games trials were probably about 4 or 5 months after that...

D: ..For Auckland?

K: ..Yeah, for Auckland. So I was thinking, hey, I might have a chance! And Glen Houseman was the talent at the time, way out in front, but Michael McKenzie was sort of coming to the end of his career, and they took 3 to the Commonwealth Games. So all of a sudden the opportunity had popped out in front of me which I'd never considered before. And after that, things skyrocketed.

D: Well we've gone through the history library and found some of my best memories, this is one of them in 1994 at the Commonwealth Games where you broke the 800m world record on the way to the 1500m world record, 2 world records in the one swim. Now talk us through it 'cos this was one of your times

K: It was, and it was actually a very funny event for me personally, 'cos we had the world championships 10 days later and Mr Carew had made it very painfully clear to me before hand 'only go for the 800 and then back off, we need you to be able to recover enough for the world championships, so just hit the 800 hard and then ease off.' And I woke up that morning, and it's only ever happened to me a couple of times, and I knew I was ready to do the record, I knew I was ready to swim fast. And I knew I'd broken the 800, and the other guys often get into me a little bit, because on that 17th 50 after I got the record, as I was swimming past them they were all jumping up and down and acting like lunatics, and I actually smiled at them as I was going past. And they think it's most unfair, that I had time to smile on my way to just holding on for the 15, yeah, it was great.

D: Mug was the word that was put around

K: Yeah, that was mentioned

D: You've been part of so many moments like that, with so many pools, and the pool is a very tight cauldron, it's a very intimate atmosphere, lots of people there and the roof does almost cave in. Was that your first taste of a few races like Atlanta?

K: It was definitely one of the big ones, because we had a lot of support there, there were a lot of Australians who had made the trip to the Commonwealth Games because it's such an important event to the nation. But, ahh, actually the biggest was World Championships in Perth in '91, that race with Jorg Hoffmann, I think because with the 1500 you have time to really get into it and the crowd does as well, you know they see the to-ing and fro-ing and you know 'oh, he's a bit ahead now... Oh no! the other guy caught up!' and it goes on

D: Well swimming's so quick you've got the 100 over in less than 50 sec, 200 in less than 2 mins..

K: Yeah. And if you're not someone who really knows the sport intimately, you can miss a lot of what's going on in the shorter events. So, and I mean that race with Jorg Hoffmann, I did come 2nd but because it was so close the whole race, and the crowd was just exceptional and the noise was just awesome.

D: Now let's talk about your competitors, you mentioned Glen Houseman, Jorg Hoffmann, Daniel Kowalski, now Grant Hackett, you've had some great competitors it hasn't been just you all by yourself, everytime you've lined up you've had someone to beat.

K: Yeah, that's right. And it's been good because 3 of the 4 have been Australian so you always know what the other guys are doing, had the opportunity to I guess keep yourself motivated, you go to a state championships or even a Brisbane local meet, and the guy you're racing for the Olympic medal is there. And you can't get away, you're always trying to get the best out of yourself.

D: After Atlanta, after such a big peak, it must have been difficult to decide to have another go again. Yes Sydney got the Games, yes it would be a dream come true to do 3 in a row, but it's a long way back after a break after the Olympics and when you've done something only one other swimmer in history has ever done, the great Vladimir Salnikov won back-to-back, it's a big decision to go again.

K: It is, it is

D: How'd you do that?

K: Well, to be honest, if Sydney didn't have the Games I probably would have retired. Going for the 3rd consecutive in its own right wasn't really enough to keep me in the sport for another 4 years. It's a long hard road back, I had 6 months off after Atlanta, let myself go a bit, it was very hard to get back from that, and it was a big decision, something my wife Sam and the kids also had to be behind me 100% 'cos it would take  a lot away from their lives as well. But it was the Sydney games. In Fact I did get a chance to speak to Vladimir, the AOC organised a luncheon in Sydney, with the Olympic gold medallists from I think it was the last 40 years [sudden reverent tone] guys like Vladimir Salnikov, Mike Burton, John Konrads and Murray Rose, and it was an exceptional day because I had guys which I'd idolised throughout my career and sort of wanted to be like, and they're there having a chat to me saying 'oh, Atlanta was fantastic, but you've got to try for 3, you've got that opportunity' and Vladimir did pull me aside and he said to me 'Look, it's very hard, and you will find it very difficult, but you'll never have the opportunity again. And you don't want to grow old wondering whether you should have gone for it.' And that really meant a lot to me, because you find it difficult, popular opinion and the media and critics will say 'he's holding on too long, he should have got out while he was still on top' and that kind of thing. And that's good and well, but at the same time - this is sport, we're athletes, we love what we do, and if we're still competitive and still enjoying it why shouldn't we give it another try?

And being able to get that kind of advice from - the best, he was - legend of the sport, and still is I think - the greatest...

D: Glad you took it

K: And, so'm I

D: So is everyone here I think.

So what's next, mate, what's next for the great KP? You've retired, how's it fit?

K: To be honest, I'm enjoying it, I have no regrets

D: It's a big vacuum isn't it

K: Oh, it's huge. I've spent 18 years of my life doing that and nothing else. And when you step away from that routine - I mean you wake up every morning and you know where you have to be and why you have to be there - and all of a sudden, you wake up one morning and it's like, 'what do you want to do today? Ahhh, I don't know...'

D: Have you discovered golf yet?

K: I have discovered golf, I do enjoy it, I do enjoy it, I probably come home a little more frustrated and aggressive than I should on many occasions but it is fabulous and...
The biggest test was they had a meet down in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, I was there doing some commentary, stood, watched the guys doing their warm up, stretching, getting in the water and racing, and for the first time in my career I actually enjoyed watching the racing, and [grins] I did not in the slightest bit want to get wet.

D: Excellent.

...The other half of your equation, Mr Carew, he was honoured at the Swimmer of the Year Awards the other night

K: ...He was, yeah

D: ...he got very emotional about his wife, his children, things like that, it was very touching...

K: [smiles] Yeah

D: He must have been a big part of your life, do you keep in contact?

K: Oh we certainly do, we certainly do, and as I said on the night, he's more than just a coach, he's a mentor as well, and as an individual who's grown up under his tutelage, yes I'm the athlete that I am because of him, but also in a lot of aspects, the human being I am, the value systems, a lot of the attitudes I have, they're all him. And it's because of that close relationship you have with your coach - I mean I spent more time with him growing up than I did with my parents - and I think that's an indication of just how important that relationship is. And look, it's great now, the swimmer-coach thing has subsided and we're friends now, it's wonderful.

D: Well we know what you're doing immediately, next week you're hosting my show

K: [grin] That's right

D: Now Kieren, you might have to get used to this.

K: It could be tough...

D: These are my dancers! Not Kieren's. Right girls?

K: Okay.

D: Anyway thanks for coming on the show

K: Thank you.

D: And Kieren'll see you next week...

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