There was speculation about how much money Thorpe would make in endorsements and appearance fees in the years ahead; $5 million was a conservative estimate. It was reported that IOC officials were worried about the amounts of money being wagered at Australia's legal betting parlors on a Thorpe victory on Tuesday night in the 200 free. The odds were quoted as 1 to 50.
He finally appeared at the interview room just as the final winner of the night, teenager Megan Quann of the U.S., who had won the 100 breaststroke, was finishing her press conference. She had said an interesting thing: "I think everyone on our team responded after that first night, after what happened in the 4x100. We all decided that we had to work harder, push past the hard times. You saw it tonight with Lenny and me. You saw it last night when we went one-two in two races, when Tom Dolan [in the 400 individual medley, with Erik Vendt second] and Brooke Bennett [in the women's 400 free, with Diana Munz] won."
The atmosphere had changed. The Americans were back, piling up the medals. Quann, a 16-year-old from Puyallup, Wash., was an example. She was America's own golden child, who had boldly predicted that she would defeat reigning world-record-holder Penny Heyns of South Africa and had then done it. She was so young that for attending the Olympics, she was receiving a phys-ed credit from Rogers High, where she was a junior. "There might be extra credit for a gold medal," she said, "I'm not sure. We'll have to talk about that."
The fast pool made everyone fast, no matter what nation's name was on the warmup shirt. The favorite Australian sport was still everyone's sport. Winners were coming from every direction, and records were falling everywhere. As for the sure thing, well, there were no sure things. Not in the Olympics.
"There's an old saying," a reporter from Singapore said, asking Thorpe the first question. "You win to get a gold medal. You lose to get silver. Do you go along with that?"
"No, not at all," Thorpe replied. "I'm happy with my result. I put everything into my race. I felt I would go a little faster, but these are the Olympic Games. Every athlete out there is competing."
The commentators had said on television that the flu had bothered Thorpe, but he didn't say that. He complimented van den Hoogenband on a great race. He said that the pressure of a nation's expectations didn't bother him, that the only pressure he felt was the pressure he put on himself. He said maybe he was a little flat, maybe he went out too fast, maybe not fast enough. Maybe. Maybe. Who could tell?
He looked older now, maybe because he wasn't smiling. He was the same kid, thoughtful and mature, pleasant, the same kid who, two days earlier, had a shot at four gold medals in four days and was going to be known forever as the hero of Australian heroes. He simply didn't have the shot anymore. The best he could do was win a third gold medal on Tuesday night in the 4x200 relay. He could not be perfect.
"What do you think about tomorrow?" a reporter asked.