FUKUOKA, Japan. July 18. THE Netherlands has gone crazy over swimming since Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn shared five gold medals at last year's Sydney Olympics.
Van den Hoogenband won two individual golds and set two world records in Sydney while de Bruijn picked up three golds, all in world record time.
But the pair have warned their Dutch fans not to expect the same heroics at the upcoming World Championships in Japan.
"I had a very good Olympics, I won two gold medals and two bronze medals and I broke a couple of world records but this meet is totally different and I don't know what to expect from it," said van den Hoogenband, who won the 100-200 meter freestyle double in world record time in Sydney. Only one other man, Mark Spitz, has accomplished that feat.
"I'm not feeling a lot of pressure because I'm the Olympic champion so I'm just going to get on the blocks and see what I can do."
De Bruijn, who won Olympic gold in 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly, said she was not even sure if she would contest the same three events at Fukuoka and would be happy to win just one title.
"I might have to drop one, I just don't know which one yet," she said.
"The last year has been a terrific year for me and it cannot get any better.
"I'm European, Olympic and world champion for short-course but I haven't won a World Championship in long-course and that's what I'm aiming for, even if it's only once."
Despite de Bruijn's protestations, she has posted the world's leading times in all three events this year. She is also a likely winner of the 50 meter fly.
Van den Hoogenband and de Bruijn's Olympic performances transformed them into overnight superstars and their lives have not been the same since.
They took five months off after Sydney but have not had a moment's free time, occupying their time with everything from appearing on television chat shows to opening supermarkets and advertising underwear.
Their coach, Jacco Verhaeren, said it had been hard getting them back to training and their preparation had been far from ideal.
With so many distractions at home, Verhaeren took his two stars overseas to train, first to South Africa then Vietnam and Korea.
"They both know how they came to have their good results at the Olympics and that was through hard work," he said. "But it's been very hard to do that this time because of all the demands on their time but they are reasonably fit."
Despite their problems, both swimmers say they are looking forward to the championships. Van den Hoogenband even considered stepping up to the 400m but has decided to stick with the 50m, 100m and 200m.
His clash with Australian Ian Thorpe in the 200m promises to be one of the highlights of the meet.
Van den Hoogenband snatched Thorpe's world record and beat him for the gold medal in Sydney, but the Australian has reclaimed the record this year.
"I know he's in the neighborhood because everywhere I go I can see his picture and hear his name," van den Hoogenband said.
"He's the world record holder and I'm the Olympic champion so hopefully it'll be a good race. He's obviously in good shape so I'm looking forward to racing him.
"I've only had a short period of hard training but I'm in good shape too and hopefully I will swim fast."
De Bruijn has only raced a couple of times this year but said she was ready to get back on the big stage.
"I'm really looking forward to be back racing the big events, the Sydney Olympics seems like a long time ago now," she said.
"You can't compare Olympics to world championships because they are very different meets but this is going to be very exciting for me."