Work in Sports
Goliath's golden Games
American swimmers outclass host Australians
Despite David's best efforts, Goliath was always going to walk away with the most medals from the swimming competition of the Sydney Olympic Games.
"David" is the host nation, Australia, with a population of 19 million. "Goliath" is the big, bad bully from the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the United States of America (estimated population 275 million).
Even with the advantage of racing before a parochial home crowd and in the familiar, high-tech Sydney Aquatic Center, Australia could never seriously expect to outpace the Americans. It was a mismatch from the beginning.
But at least the Aussies -- and European nations like the Netherlands, Ukraine and Italy -- have kept the U.S. honest in the swimming events in Sydney.
Ian Thorpe, Susie O'Neill and Michael Klim are among the Australians to earn a place in their nation's hearts with their gold-medal efforts.
The much hyped up quote from sprinter Gary Hall Jr. that the U.S. would "smash the Aussies like guitars" in the pool betrays the deep respect the Americans have for the swim-happy Aussies.
Hall himself was quick to say that his comments were taken out of context from a web-article in which he was actually singing the praises of the Australian swim program before making his mischievous comment.
To his credit, Hall could see the funny side of it when Klim and his teammates sarcastically strummed their air-guitars in front of the U.S. team after winning the 4x100-meter freestyle relay. Hall, of course, then edged Klim out of the medals in the 100-meter freestyle final a couple of days later.
And in the several interviews that I've conducted with Amy Van Dyken in the past, it was clear the four-time Atlanta gold-medalist had only the strongest admiration for her rivals from Down Under.
When I visited her at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado a couple of years ago, Van Dyken let fly with a couple of good-natured taunts about how the Americans were hoping to "kick butt" in the big finals ahead. But she would then speak in respectful tones about how great a challenge that her Aussie peers would pose.
Being the world's largest island and with 90 percent of the population living on the coasts, Australia, it seems, was made to produce swimming champions.
For generations, the best Aussie swimmers have had the same profile at home as the top soccer players in Europe or the most famous stars of the NBA in the United States.
O'Neill is so popular in Australia that thousands of kids learning to swim have renamed the butterfly "the Susie stroke" in recognition of the Queenslander's achievements.
I first met this swimming diva in 1993 when she was still a teenager: with a little international success behind her (she won a bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics) but yet to really make her mark on the world scene.
But several things impressed me when I visited her training base in Brisbane. She had a steely determination that shone from her blue eyes, a sense of destiny about the possibilities ahead for her, and a kind of disarming serenity that suggested she would stay calm and focused in the most pressurized of situations.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, O'Neill was a gold-medallist in the 200-meter butterfly (as well as winning minor relay medals). Her medal haul in Sydney includes gold in the 200 freestyle, even though she was unexpectedly beaten in the 200 fly by American Misty Hyman.
So, as well as a big collection of World and Commonwealth titles, the 27-year-old O'Neill has two golds, three silvers and two bronzes from Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney, making her the nation's most successful female athlete in an Olympic pool since Shane Gould in 1972.
Like Gould, Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose before them, O'Neill, as well as her teammates Thorpe and Klim, are magnificent ambassadors for their country. Strong and successful in the big events, they are also gracious in defeat, as each of the current trio has had to deal with some disappointment at these Sydney Games.
The Aussies will probably never be able to out-swim the Americans at a major championship. But that doesn't mean they'll ever stop trying to show up Uncle Sam. No way, mate.
Australian-born Jason Dasey is an anchor for World Sport, a 30-minute sports news and highlights program shown live on CNN-International.