Australian icon Ian Thorpe and Dutch icon Pieter van den Hoogenband had one of the greatest rivalries in swimming. Both of the swimmers have long been retired now, but their legacy in the sport lives on.
In 2017, the pair reunited in Sydney a few days before the anniversary of one of their most epic races at the 2000 Olympics.
Thorpe, who is the most decorated Australian Olympian with a total of five gold medals among nine total, won the 400 freestyle in Sydney. This victory made him a strong contender for the gold in the 200 freestyle. But in that later 200 free, he was beaten by van den Hoogenband in the final and had to settle for silver in that event.
The rivalry between these two swimming icons was far from over, however. At the 2001 World Championships in Fukoka, Japan, they again went head-to-head in the 200 free.
Van den Hoogenband was the top seed out of the semifinals. Thorpe qualified second.
In the final, they wasted no time in breaking away from the rest of the field, going stroke for stroke over the first 150 meters. But Thorpe found a second wind, passing van den Hoogenband over the final 50 to grab the win.
Thorpe’s winning time of 1:44.06 took over half a second off of his own world record of 1:44.69, set at 2001 Nationals. Van den Hoogenband finished in second place in 1:45.81, while American Klete Keller earned the bronze in 1:47.10.
In the “race of the century” two years later, the pair battled it out again in the 200 free at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, along with American Michael Phelps. Thorpe was victorious, followed by van den Hoogenband and Phelps.