Salnikov swimming feats were an inspiration
Posted: Sunday July 11, 2004 9:32PM; Updated: Sunday July 11, 2004 9:32PM
LONDON, July 12 (Reuters) -- Two unforgettable swims eight years apart raise Vladimir Salnikov high in the realms of Olympic greats.
Salnikov had his first taste of an Olympic final at 16 in the 1976 Montreal Games, although he attracted little attention in a tremendous 1,500 metres freestyle battle in which Americans Brian Goodell and Bobby Hackett and Australia's Steve Holland all swam inside the world record.
But two years later Salnikov ruled as world 400 and 1,500 freestyle champion and at the 1980 Moscow Olympics he made history by bursting through the 15-minute barrier in the 1,500 final as well as winning the 400 freestyle.
Double world champion again in 1982 and world 400 and 1,500 record holder, Salnikov would have been a racing certainty to win two more Olympic titles in 1984 but for the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Games.
He took heavy beatings in the 1986 world and 1987 European championships but confounded the doubters with his last Olympic hurrah at 28 in Seoul in 1988 to win the 1,500 to the delight of his admirers.
Australia's Kieren Perkins achieved a great 1,500 double of his own, thrashing his rivals with a world record in 1992 and then upsetting the odds in 1996 with a runaway victory, having only just scraped into the final following disappointing form in the Olympic build-up.
It took a great swim by fellow Australian Grant Hackett at the 2000 Sydney Games to prevent Perkins from becoming the first man to win three Olympic 1,500 freestyle crowns.
I was not covering swimming when Mark Spitz pulled off the greatest Olympic swimming feat by winning seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games but there have been a host of performances to savour since then.
Alexander Popov, most immaculate of swimming stylists, dethroned mighty American Matt Biondi to win the 50 and 100 freestyle at the 1992 Barcelona Games and followed that with an unprecedented second golden double in Atlanta in 1996.
In Sydney four years later, he was beaten to the gold in the 100 by Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband and finished out of the medals in the 50 but the long, lean Russian regained his world 50 and 100 freestyle titles in Barcelona in 2003.
A similar double at the age of 32 at next month's Athens Olympics would be greeted with the same popular acclaim which Salnikov enjoyed in 1988.
The 1976 Montreal Games brought a deluge of world records -- 27 broken and two equalled -- and a unique back-to-back double of individual titles by 17-year-old Kornelia Ender who won the 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle inside half an hour.
Ender left Montreal with four golds and one silver, a haul exceeded in Seoul in 1988 by fellow East German Kristin Otto, who won six golds in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly.
Biondi picked up five golds, a silver and a bronze in Seoul, while fellow American Janet Evans defied the dominant East German women with a golden treble in the 400 and 800 freestyle and 400 individual medley and Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary won the 200 backstroke at just 14.
The elegant Egerszegi scooped the 100 and 200 backstroke and 400 individual medley in Barcelona in 1992 and became only the second swimmer ever -- matching Australian Dawn Fraser -- to win the same individual event at three Olympics when she completed her 200 backstroke treble in Atlanta in 1996.
Other memorable highlights included the world's first sub-50-seconds swim in the 100 metres freestyle when American Jim Montgomery clocked 49.99 to win in Montreal and the astonishing upset by little-known Australian Duncan Armstrong of favourites Biondi and Michael Gross in the 200 freestyle in Seoul.
Gross, whose huge arm span earned him the nickname of the "Albatross," was a wonder to behold swimming butterfly. He won the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly in Los Angeles but suffered a surprising reverse against Australian Jon Sieben in the 200 butterfly -- a blip the German rectified in Seoul in sweepingly majestic style.
The 2000 Sydney Games provided perhaps the most spectacular night of swimming ever, with five world records, including three for Australia ecstatically celebrated by the home crowd.
Ukraine's Yana Klochkova set a world mark in the women's 400 individual medley and the U.S. cracked another in the women's 4x100 freestyle relay.
But Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim ensured it would be remembered as Australia's night. Thorpe eclipsed his own world record to win the 400 freestyle gold and Klim gave Australia a sensational start as lead-off swimmer in the 4x100 freestyle relay when he lowered Popov's long-standing 100 freestyle world mark.
Thorpe, anchoring the relay, overhauled Gary Hall at the death to snatch the sweetest of victories and destroy a U.S. world record.
Van den Hoogenband took the 100 freestyle world record from Klim and the 200 freestyle world mark from Thorpe and became double Olympic champion.
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