By Stephen J. Thomas
ATHENS, August 18. THE Flying Dutchman, Pieter van den Hoogenband, proved he still has what it takes when it comes to racing when he took early leader South African Roland Schoeman at the wall to win his second consecutive 100 freestyle.
Hoogie's time, 48.17, though well outside his own world and Olympic record of 47.84 from Sydney, ties him for the world's fastest time this year and for the fourth-fastest time all-time.
Schoeman clocked the same time in his winning relay leadoff for the South Africans on the second night of competition and no doubt American Jason Lezak was sitting in the stands, painfully aware that he missed a great chance here, having clocked the same time at the US Trials just last month. Schoeman went out in a sizzling 22.60 but came home in 25.63 while Hoogie was out in 23.27 and powered home in 24.90.
The bronze medal went to that man Ian Thorpe. Sixth at the turn, he turned on the juice in the second lap, coming home just behind Hoogie's split in 24.99 to clock a PR 48.56, edging the other South African, Ryk Neethling (PR 48.63).
Hoogie was very emotional after his race, even his coach had never seen him so overjoyed."I wanted very, very much to win," he said. " Before the race I told myself I had to control my emotions, swim my own race and be patient and not chase Roland (Schoeman)in the first fifty … then when I got to the wall I did not know if I had won, I was scared to look at the board, I prayed to myself, let it be me."
"It's the biggest moment of my life, it's sweeter even than the Sydney gold, the pressure was on me so I had alot to prove," he explained.
Schoeman said of his swim, " I feel very good, second to the world record-holder is still a good feeling. I knew 48 low would win the gold, I just wasn't the one that swam it, Hoogie had the race of his life."