When Kieren Perkins won the 1500 metres freestyle gold medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996, he became the only Australian since Dawn Fraser to defend an individual Olympic championship successfully and he had overcome huge adversity. His final year of preparation was a frustrating one – hampered by illness, injury, distraction, unaccountable loss of form and an understandable faltering of self-confidence
In Atlanta, Perkins struggled in the heat, suffering stomach cramps that inhibited his turns, costing him 10 seconds, and he just managed to squeeze into the final. Having qualified slowest, Kieren was under enormous pressure to repeat his Gold Medal winning performance from Barcelona four years before. How Kieren blitzed the field and stormed to victory from lane eight is now history and proof of his incredible strength, determination and athleticism.
On the final night he looked down on the pool and told himself: “I’m in lane eight. It’s the same water as the rest of the pool. I’ve just got to get in there and do it. There are eight of you on the starting blocks from the entire world, eight who have been honing their talents before being whittled down and brought together to race. You have to understand how to be mentally tough to race in that situation. That separates the people who win and those who lose by one hundreth of a second.”
That’s what happened, as he led from start to finish to retain the title. A great moment in Australian sporting history.