League Of Olympic Swim Legends: Ian Thorpe Tops 200m Free Podium With Schollander & A Snap For Hoogie & Gross

Ian Thorpe - Image Courtesy: SwimSketch

What would have unfolded had Tokyo 2020 gone ahead as planned this week – and where would it all have fit in the thread of Olympic swim legends like Ian Thorpe, Don Schollander, Michael Gross and Pieter Van Den Hoogenband? To mark the eight days over which the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would have unfolded had the coronavirus pandemic not forced postponement, the team at Swimming World is filling the void with a Virtual Vision Form Guide and League of Olympic Swimming Legends.

Day 2, event 3 – the alchemy of silver to gold on the crest of a wave of pioneering pace …


Ian Thorpe – Athens 2004 victory in an Olympic record – Photo Courtesy: Olympic Channel still

Men’s 200m Freestyle

The Podium

  1. Ian Thorpe (AUS)
  2. Don Schollander  (USA)
  3. Michael Gross (FRG); Pieter Van Den Hoogenband (NED)

The Other Finalists (Listed Alphabetically):

  • Bruce Furniss (USA)
  • Michael Phelps (AUS)
  • Mark Spitz (USA)
  • Johnny Weissmuller (USA)
  • Our Lane 9* place, with a top-reserve nod to Mike Wenden, the Australian who beat Schollander for the 1968 Olympic 200m title to add to the 100m crown he’d claimed five days before, goes to the Frenchman who eight years on from his 2012 victory remains the holder off the best time ever swum in a textile suit:
  • Yannick Agnel (FRA)

All-Time Battle Of Olympic Swim Legends Goes To Ian Thorpe

Schollander, Don 030

Don Schollander – Photo Courtesy: ISHOF

Pieter Van Den Hoogenband no date by Bill Collins 3

Pieter Van den Hoogenband – Photo Courtesy: Bill Collins

If the 200 freestyle at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens – featuring Ian Thorpe, Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps – was declared “The Race of the Century,” then this clash of Legends must be deemed “The Race of Swimming Lore.” It marks a spectacular gathering of greats and is nuanced due to certain narratives that were out of the control of the athletes.

Before delving into the intricacies of this all-time race, let’s review its simplest part: Australia’s Thorpe secured the gold medal, his Olympic title from 2004 and silver medal helping to vault him ahead of the opposition. During his career, Thorpe set six world records, highlighted by a 1:44.06 performance en route to the 2001 world title.

Taking the silver medal was the United States’ Don Schollander, whose Olympic aspirations in the event were impacted by scheduling. An 11-time world-record setter in the 200 freestyle, Schollander won silver in 1968, the first year the event was on the Olympic schedule. Had the 200 free been on the docket four years earlier, during Schollander’s heyday, there is little doubt he would have stormed to gold.

The Netherlands’ van den Hoogenband and West Germany’s Michael Gross shared the bronze medal. Van den Hoogenband rode the power of his 2000 Olympic crown over Thorpe and 2004 silver medal while Gross, the 1984 Olympic champion, was fueled by a quartet of world records that saw him hold the global standard for five years. They were pushed by the United States’ Johnny Weissmuller, who raced in an era in which the 200 free was not an Olympic event, but set three world records and held the global mark for 13 years.

With this Legends victory, Thorpe makes the top of our podiums twice, after gold in the 400m freestyle on day 1.

The obvious question after revealing the podium is: Where is the United States’ Phelps? The 28-time Olympic hardware winner finished just outside of the medals a touch adrift Weissmuller, although his Olympic title from 2008 and bronze medal from 2004 offered a significant challenge.

An extra lane was granted in this event, France’s Yannick Agnel taking advantage. As the textile world-record holder, the 2012 Olympic champion supplied a sterling performance in London that cannot be overlooked.

The ‘Race of the Century’ …


Olympic Swim Legends – Our Winner’s Winning Ways:

Ian Thorpe – The Alchemy Of Silver To Gold

2004 Athens – Men 200m Freestyle: Athletes: 69; Nations: 49

  1. 1:44.71 Ian Thorpe AUS
  2. 1:45.23 Pieter vd Hoogenband NED
  3. 1:45.32 Michael Phelps USA
  4. 1:46.13 Klete Keller USA
  5. 1:46.56 Grant Hackett AUS
  6. 1:47.55 Rick Say CAN
  7. 1:48.02 Simon Burnett GBR
  8. 1:48.40 Emiliano Brembilla ITA
  9. Date of final: August 16, 2004

After his achievements at the 2000 Olympic Games at home in Sydney, Ian Thorpe (AUS) won six gold medals at the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka. If that set a record in itself, then the global marks he established over 200m (1:44.06), 400m (3:40.17), 800m (7:39.16), and as a member of the Australian 4x200m freestyle relay (7:04.66) were monumental.

By the time the Athens 200m final came round, Thorpe had switched coaches, from Doug Frost to Tracey Menzies, and switched places with Van den Hoogenband as favourite to win a 200m final dubbed – somewhat prematurely – the “Race of the Century”, with Michael Phelps (USA) in the mix and aiming to match Mark Spitz’s record seven gold medals. The semi-finals saw the Dutchman clock 1:46.00 to Thorpe’s 1:46.65 and Phelps’s 1:47.08.

In the final, Van den Hoogenband, the better speedster, led the way with splits of 24.44 and 50.52, to 24.81 and 51.04 for Thorpe, Phelps never too far behind, on 25.52 and 51.70. At the last turn, Van den Hoogenband maintained his lead, 0.2sec inside Thorpe’s world-record pace, on 1:17.72, with the Australian on 1:18.26 and the American pretender on 1:18.83. Thorpe then blazed a sizzling trail home to an Olympic-record victory of 1:44.71, the first and only sub-1:45 seen in Olympic waters, with Van den Hoogenband holding on for the silver in 1:45.23 ahead of Phelps, in an American record of 1:45.32.

Three years later, beyond Thorpe’s retirement, Phelps broke the Australian’s world record with the first sub-1:44 effort, 1:43.86, to win the world title at Melbourne in 2007 ahead of Van den Hoogenband.

Meanwhile, in Athens, bronze in the 100m freestyle made Ian Thorpe the first man to win Olympic medals in the 100m, 200m and 400m. Asked to sum up the difference between winning and not, Thorpe said:

“For myself, losing is not coming second. It’s getting out of the water knowing you could have done better. For myself, I have won every race I’ve been in.”

He retired in November 2006.

Other Great 200m Freestyle Race In History

When Michael The Albatross Gross Soared Ahead Of Time & Rivals:

When Hoogie Beat Thorpey In The Dolphin’s Den


Pieter Van Den Hoogenband – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer ©

2000 Sydney – Men 200m Freestyle: Athletes: 51     Nations: 44

  1. 1:45.35 Pieter vd Hoogenband NED
  2. 1:45.83 Ian Thorpe AUS
  3. 1:46.65 Massimiliano Rosolino ITA
  4. 1:46.73 Josh Davis USA
  5. 1:47.95 Paul Palmer GBR
  6. 1:48.74 James Salter GBR
  7. 1:48.76 Rick Say CAN
  8. 1:49.46 Grant Hackett AUS

Date of final: September 18, 2000

“I kept a book of all the records of 9-, 10- and 11-year-old boys in my bedroom. I wanted to be the best at every age. There were a lot of talented swimmers, but they stopped because of the pressure of the sport. But I enjoyed it,” – Pieter van den Hoogenband (NED) recalling his passion for swimming as a boy who would become Olympic champion.

In an era that witnessed the longevity of Alexander Popov (RUS), the ascendancy of Ian Thorpe (AUS), Grant Hackett (AUS) and Michael Phelps (USA), the flying Dutchman is the only man who can claim to have beaten all of those greats in the midst of their supremacy.

Pieter Cornelis Martijn van den Hoogenband won when it counted most, claiming the Olympic 100m and 200m freestyle titles at Sydney 2000 before joining Weissmuller (USA) and Popov as a double winner in the 100m with a follow-up thriller in Athens 2004.

The Eindhoven Express enjoyed winning but wanted more. After stopping Popov and Thorpe in Sydney, Van den Hoogenband said:

“I’ll stay Olympic champion for the rest of my life but what I really want to do is break records by so much that they will stand for years … I’d like to be the Bob Beamon of swimming.”

A swimmer by the time he was 4, Van den Hoogenband grew up in a sports family: his father, Cees Reyn, played water polo and worked as team doctor to PSV Eindhoven football club as a member of the FINA Medical Commission, while his mother, Astrid Verver, was a European junior silver medallist in the 800m freestyle in 1971. At 14 their son began to train with coach Jacco Verhaeren, who was only 23 himself at the time. In 2007, as Van den Hoogenband celebrated his 29th birthday on the eve of Melbourne 2007, Verhaeren recalled:

“Pieter said to me ‘ah, now you’re officially half my life’. I grew up as a coach and he grew up as an athlete at the same time.”

Two of the biggest of moments unfolded over 24 hours on Days 2 and 3 at the Games in Sydney, after Ian Thorpe (AUS) had enjoyed the perfect start to a week he was expected to dominate: world record for a 400m freestyle victory before bringing the Australian 4x100m quartet home to a stunning upset victory over the USA.

The next day, Thorpe faced the might of a fresh Dutchman. On September 17, “Hoogie” shaved 0.16sec off Thorpe’s world record in the semi-final to leave the mark at 1:45.35. In the second semi, Thorpe threatened with a Commonwealth record of 1:45.37.

In the final, Josh Davis (USA) took on the challenge with a 24.42 split at the 50, with Van den Hoogenband on 24.44 and Thorpe on 24.48. At 100m, the Dutchman and the Australian were split 50.85 to 50.90, with Davis on 51.02. One length later, the duel was tied, at 1:18.21 for both Van den Hoogenband and Thorpe, whose legendary finish was expected to seal the triumph. But it was the Dutchman who found the edge, stopping the clock in a matched world record. Thorpe was second, 0.48sec adrift.

Van den Hoogenband went on to win the 100m freestyle and two bronze medals, in the 50m freestyle and the 4x200m relay.

And – a memory of Don Schollander and one of his nine World 200m Freestyle record: 

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