Even amidst public appearances with such athletic icons as Usain Bolt, Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe makes time for old friends. At the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre’s historical exhibition induction this week, ‘Flying Dutchman’ Pieter van den Hoogenband made the haul from the Netherlands to New South Wales to meet up with his freestyle nemesis of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games.
Van den Hoogenband won the men’s 100m free and 200m free races at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, pulling an upset of sorts over the host nation’s golden boy, Thorpe. The Aussie would take back his 200m freestyle title, however, at the 2004 edition of the Games in Athens. He and VDH took on American newbie Michael Phelps in what was nicknamed ‘the race of the century.’ Thorpe won gold, with VDH earning silver and Phelps taking bronze.
Reunited as part of a Dutch documentary project, Thorpe and VDH haven’t physically seen each other since 2008, although they reportedly remain good friends. Both storied swimmers have entered the commentary world in their post-competitive days, with the Dutchman paying particular attention to the sprint freestyle events.
Keen on seeing the 46.91 supersuited 100m free world record from 2009 go down, VDH told The Australian this week, “I hope that world record will be gone by Tokyo (the 2020 Olympics) because when we watch swimming and we see the world record is still there, I have mixed feelings. It’s not right that the record is still there. The world record in the 100m freestyle is very important and I am not happy that it’s from the (polyurethane) suit era. I want the best swimmer in the world to be the world record-holder.
“For me, James Magnussen was the world record-holder (after clocking 47.10sec at the 2012 Olympic trials) and then Cameron McEvoy (who swam 47.04sec at the 2016 Olympic trials) and now Caeleb Dressel is close.
“I think it’s about time someone broke the world record and we closed the whole page on the shiny suits,’’ he said. “With Caeleb Dressel swimming so fast I hope it will motivate Kyle Chalmers and Cameron McEvoy to perform well and train hard and get there.’
“We know McEvoy can swim that fast but unfortunately he didn’t do it in the Olympic final.’’
Van den Hoogenband has additional ties to Australian swimming by way of his former coach Jacco Verhaeren having taken over as the Dolphins Head Coach back in 2013. The two reportedly meet up once a year on the Gold Coast, the site of the 2018 Commonwealth Games.