Kieren, emerging from the depths

As Seen on Sportsworld, Channel 7 Network, 13 Aug 2000

Kieren Perkins: If I come away from the Sydney Games without a medal, just being there, knowing that I've everything that I possibly could, is going to be enough, I won't come away with any regrets. Every day when I'm out and about people come up to me, wish me luck, tell me that they know I can do it, and, you know, just to give it my best shot.

Reporter: Do you feel sorry for Grant Hackett in that respect?

Kieren: He's young, he's got plenty of time to build up some respect.

R: Following a rib injury, Kieren is fighting to get back on track.

Kieren's coach, John Carew: He's a little bit behind, but we've got time to make it up. He can come back, and I suppose that's what makes a champion.

R: Over the last 19 years, John Carew has seen Kieren break 11 world records. He still holds 2 [3- 2 longcourse, 1 shortcourse], including the 1500m. The hours they've spent together are countless. But surprisingly, neither has sat down and calculated just how many kilometres over the years Kieren has swum to achieve his goals.

K: Every now and again we've sort of worked out how many strokes I do a year, but as far as kilometres are concerned, no, I don't really know.

R: Well, based on a rough calculation of 80k a week since you began the long distance program...

K: -Yeah, that's about right.

R: ...it turns out to be almost twice the circumference of the Earth.

K: [laughing] Bit of a worry isn't it, it's a very long way to swim. Makes you wonder what the hell you're doing when you put it in terms like that, doesn't it.

R: Kieren knows he is one of the lucky ones. His public profile is as polished as his stroke.

But ask those closest to him and you'll find, deep down, he's pretty shy.

K: [comes over all shy] Yeah I....um...heh.... you've done your research haven't you...hate that....

Oh look, the stuff you see in the media about me, generally is me, what you see is what you get.

....There's times when I'd just like to find a hole somewhere and disappear.

Hayley Lewis: It's definitely a pressure situation, but I guess it's something that Kieren and I have had to handle for 10 years or so, so we're pretty used to it.

R: One person who knows what Kieren is going through is Hayley Lewis. The King and the comeback queen share a lane - and the expectations of a nation.

H: [laughs] If you don't talk to him for the first 25min in the mornings, he's fine. He's not a very good morning person I don't think... But the last 18 months or so when I've been back training, it's so much easier when you're training with someone like Kieren.

R: Kieren is the favourite to carry the flag in Sydney. But there's one thing he's not looking forward to, and that's the thought of a champion being wrongly accused of doping.

K: With this sort of paranoia that's being built, we're getting the problem where on the one hand, this international person does something and all the Australians are coming out and saying 'oh, that's a bit suss,' but when one of our own gets accused we're saying 'oh no no no,he's just a champion, he's just the best.' And that's wrong. That's so very wrong. We are not immune. We are not golden. An Australian will eventually get caught on drugs.

R: Kieren is never worried about tackling the issues head on or creating a bit of turbulence. But one question he's reluctant to answer is will anything less than gold in Sydney be considered a failure?

K: [embarrassed] heh heh...no...no... Sort of a double edged sword that one. Leading into it I tell myself anything less than a win is failure. But when it's all said and done and the race is over and I've touched the wall, as long as I know I've done everything I can possibly do, then, you know, what else can I do.

R: While physically Kieren is behind Barcelona and Atlanta, mentally he's as tough as ever. But he denies having any master plan to upset his rivals.

K: I'm no master tactician or mind game player, I'll just do what I need to do and I'm sure it'll all work out.

R: Well that's part of the mind games in itself, isn't it, to think Kieren Perkins isn't working on anything.

K: [laughing] -Maybe

R: Around 4pm on 23rd September Perkins will attempt the impossible. Behind the blocks he'll close the door on the world and try once again to beat the odds.

K: I don't know if lonely is the right words - I suppose in a pure sense yes it is because I'm out there and I'm on my own, I suppose it's like a boxer getting into the ring. The world around you does disappear. It's important you are in control of yourself and what you're doing and, you know, I've never looked at it as being lonely.


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