Most of the swimming community would agree that a significant contingent of the sport’s most loyal fans reside in the country of Australia. The island “down under” is known not only for its legendary achievements within the pool by some of the sport’s biggest names in history, but also for having some of the world’s most enthusiastic spectators cheering right along with every stroke.
With this in mind, it was not entirely shocking to read through a recently-published listing of Australia’s most-watched television broadcasts of the 20th century and see perhaps one or two televised swimming events appear on the rankings. What is rather extraordinary when reviewing the list, however, is noting the sheer number of times swimming appears, as well as how high swimming is positioned in the order.
Australia’s most-watched shows of the 20th century
- Diana Spencer’s funeral 1997
- Wedding of Charles and Diana 1981
- Olympic opening and closing ceremonies 2000
- Cathy Freeman’s Olympic gold run 2000
- Olympic swimming events 2000
22. Men’s 1500 meters swimming final, Commonwealth Games, 1998
30. Men’s 1500m swimming final, Olympics, 1996
Australia’s most-watched shows since 2001
67. World Swimming Championships day 8 2001
Of course the 2000 Olympics were indeed held within Australia, which no doubt impacted the overall television audience of all events, including swimming. But having gold-medal winning guns such as Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim on the Dolphins’ roster certainly bolstered excitement, interest and general fan frenzy in that particular installment of the Olympic Games.
As for the 1998 Commonwealth Games and 1996 performances on the list, this fact reveals the Aussies’ love for one of the sport’s most grueling events, but also one of their most beloved – the 1500m freestyle. 1998 saw Grant Hackett take the Commonwealth title over South Africa’s Ryk Neethling, and also saw their then-current record holder Kieren Perkins nab 3rd.
Backing up to the 1996 1500m swimming final, the Australians hunched over their televisions to be rewarded by two of their countrymen on the podium as well. Kieren Perkins earned the gold medal, with Daniel Kowalski placing second at this edition of the Games held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
Finally, not coincidently, the 1500m freestyle was also on the final day – day 8 – of the World Swimming Championships in 2001, the 67th-most watch broadcast of any kind in Australia since that year. Grant Hackett again powered his way to the top of the podium in the event, this time setting the world record in 14:34.56. A record that would last until China’s Sun Yang set his own new mark in 2012.