Then Kieren Perkins, an 18-year-old high school senior from Brisbane, Australia, plunged into the pool for the 1,500-meter freestyle. After having missed Vladimir Salnikov's five-year-old world record in the 800 free by .04 of a second last Friday night, Perkins had his sights set on breaking that mark en route to winning the 1,500 on Sunday night. With 800 of the 1,500 meters behind him, Perkins touched the wall, stopped and looked up at the clock. "I wasn't going to wait another 700 meters to see if I'd got it," Perkins said.
The time was 7:47.85, which was 2.79 seconds faster than Salnikov's record. Noting his triumph, Perkins pumped his fist into the air and resumed his quest for the 1,500 title. He went on to win the race in 14:59.79, an impressive but not record-breaking time.
Swimming was therapy for Perkins long before it was his sport. At age nine he ran through a plate glass window while chasing his little brother around the house and lacerated his left calf, an injury that required 86 stitches. Part of Perkins's therapy was to splash around in a pool using a kickboard. "They used to carry him to me," says his coach, John Carew, who has worked with Perkins for eight years.
Perkins still trains in the little 20-meter pool in the Brisbane suburb of Indooroopilly that he used during his recuperation. At 16, he became only the third man to break 15 minutes for the 1,500. And at the world championships in Perth last January, he swam a 14:50.58, smashing Salnikov's 1,500 record but finishing a meter behind Germany's Joerg Hoffman. "My best moment and my worst all at once," says Perkins.
Despite Perkins's performance, American swimmers easily outpaced the Australians (and everyone else) in Edmonton, winning 26 gold medals. Summer Sanders, 18, of Roseville, Calif., won three events (the two individual medleys and the 200-meter butterfly), but paid a price. She needed ice packs on her shoulders each night to relieve tendinitis. "I think we've squeezed the orange too many times this year," said U.S. women's coach Mark Schubert.
Sanders's Stanford schoolmate, senior Jeff Rouse, was the meet's only other record breaker. Twenty minutes after Perkins set his mark, Rouse swam the backstroke leg of the 4x100-meter medley relay in 53.93 to become the first person to crack 54 seconds for the 100-meter back. Because Rouse swam the leadoff leg of the relay, his time will count as a world record.
Truth be told, the Pan Pacific meet wasn't very exciting until those last races. But Perkins and Rouse made up for all the dull moments.
The NHL is experiencing a summer of discontent
This off-season has truly been off for the NHL. For one thing, the players are ticked off. The increasingly acrimonious relationship between owners and players has delayed talks on a new collective bargaining agreement. Although the two sides have returned to the negotiating table, the players may strike after the agreement expires on Sept. 15.