Sydney 2000: Dutch Joy with History Making Olympic Haul To Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn

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WHAT A WEEK: “....we were blown away by ourselves…..and you look at that and think ‘Really?’…what just happened?” - Photo Courtesy: Jacco Verhaeren Collection.

Sydney 2000: Dutch Joy with History Making Olympic Haul To Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn

While Sydney 2000 was a successful meet for the Lenny Krazelburg-led Americans and Ian Thorpe and the Australian team the small but select group from the Netherlands under coach Jacco Verhaeren not only swam their way into the hearts of the Dutch nation but they were certainly embraced by the Aussies.

The US again led the gold medal charge with 14 – Krazelburg winning the backstroke double and the medley relay and Brooke Bennett the 400 and 800 freestyle double – while Australia and the Netherlands each picked up five gold.

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

It was the most successful Games in the Dutch history that saw the Verhaeren coached Pieter van den Hoogenband take out the prestigious 100 and 200m freestyle double.

Fellow country woman Inge de Bruijn (coached by hall of fame coach Paul Bergen in the US) was unstoppable.

She had withdrawn from the team in Atlanta in 1996, but made a triumphant return four years later, winning three gold medals in the 50 and 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly – re-writing the world record books along the way.

At the end of arguably the best week in Dutch swimming history, Verhaeren, who this week is about to wind up  a seven-year stint in what he described as his “dream job” as Australia’s head coach, admitted: “Five gold and five world records…we were blown away by ourselves…..and you look at that and think ‘Really?’…what just happened?”

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NAILED IT: Inge de Bruijn – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer Archive ©

Verhaeren had spearheaded the Dolphins through successful campaigns in Rio and at the last two Commonwealth Games and three World Championships and will return home to his wife and two boys to plan his next move and also celebrate his Sydney triumphs.

And this week he relived the best week of his coaching career – although things didn’t go according to plan on day one.

As good a start as night one was for the Aussies with the gold to Thorpe and the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay it was “a shocker” for the Dutch.

“The first day for us in Sydney was terrible….we were disqualified in the 4x100m freestyle (an event) I think we would have had a shot to at least being in the game, “ recalled Verhaeren on the 20th Anniversary of Sydney 2000 and as he reminisced the magical week that unfolded.

“Particularly having Pieter at that point in time….in the heats, one swimmer went too early and Pieter wasn’t in the heats and he actually was back in the Village waiting for a phone call from me to tell him where he would be swimming in the final.

“But it was more a conversation about…well…rest up!

“He stayed in the Village that night and I was at the pool and saw it all unfold….Thorpie breaking the world record in the 400m, I saw that 4x100m men’s relay battle…..big night.

“When I returned that night from the pool I wondered what Pieter himself thought of this and looking back I think it became one of our strengths not looking too much at what other people did, because it drives him crazy.

“But it’s what you expect at an Olympics….everybody is ready and world records are broken; people are there to swim fast.

“It would be naïve to think differently, of course Thorpie would be in shape, (it’s a) home competition and all that and I went back and knocked on Pieter’s door and said hey did you see all that, some good performances and he was disappointed for the relay that we didn’t qualify because of that DQ.

“But (then again) he thought it gives me another day of rest and I’ll be ready tomorrow, he was very stoic and I thought that’s probably the best response I could have expected, he wasn’t phased at all.

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TEAMWORK: Coach Jacco Verhaeren and Pieter van den Hoogenband Photo Courtesy: Jacco Verhaeren Collection.

“At the end of the day (we had one major goal), to break 48 seconds for the 100m.

“We didn’t say we wanted to win or we want to do this and that and of course the likelihood when you do that is winning.

“But we wanted to be the first athlete to break 48 seconds and we’d go from there”

And then there’s the 200m – an event owned by Thorpe.

“Well, we knew we had a very good 200 but it wasn’t front and centre at that point in time,” said Verhaeren.

“But he was absolutely in the best form of his life and we started in the heats with an almost cruising 1:46 and then the semis when he broke the world record (1:45.35) and I remember looking at him and thinking, this is the first time we have had semi-finals in the 200m (in the modern era) so we were thinking about a strategy of how do we do this.

“It actually changed the game a little bit and so we decided you don’t want to waste too much energy in the heats and you want to be good without killing yourself in the semi-finals if you are good enough.

“But he broke the world record in the semis….and then the next semi-final with Thorpie – we thought it’s going to be a short lived world record.

“That was my first thought but then again I thought maybe it won’t be that easy for him (after the 400m and the relay the night before) and it wasn’t an easy swim.

“And Pieter said ‘I’m just going to stick to my routine (in the final)….of course he was the fastest over the 100 so for him to go out a little bit quicker didn’t hurt him that much and so the best thing was we decided ‘just stick to the strategy” and we’ll see what happens.

“If he can follow he can and if he can’t he can’t and we are just going to race…”

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GOT ME: Pieter van den Hoogenband and Ian Thorpe. Photo Courtesy: News Ltd.

And Hoogie took it out with Thorpe on his shoulder for the first 100m before the pair touched the wall at the 150 together, with the Dutch flyer surfacing first.

Thorpe drew level again over the first 25m before Hoogie swam away over the thrilling final stages – equaling his own WR of 1:45.35 – ahead of Thorpe’s 1:45.83.

Thorpe had gone into the Olympics, having set his fourth world mark over the 200m in 12 months, lowering it to 1:45.51 at the Australian Olympic Trials in May.

Later in the week Van den Hoogenband would go on to become the first man under 48 secs in the 100m– setting a new WR of 47.84 – 0.28 faster than Australian Michael Klim’s WR set in the opening night’s relay lead off swim of 48.18.

“I had eight athletes from my home program and of course Inge, who was coached by Paul Bergen in Portland, Oregon, who wasn’t attending the ” said Jacco.

“She had set 12 world records in the lead up to Sydney, the first woman to swim 56 in the 100m butterfly and the first under 54 in the 100m freestyle.

“Inge was on a roll and I remember talking to Paul and saying what you do in training is very different to what I do.

“And he said as long as she trusts what you are doing she will be fine and that speaks to his experience; he was the coach who worked with (US legend) Tracey Caulkins…he had a load of experience and he actually empowered me, especially at our pre-Olympic camp in Newcastle.

“How you can work together and empower each other (communicating via a landline telephone and the fax machine).

“It was a good dynamic and the simple message from Paul was now “it’s about confidence” he had done his job……we just had to do ours and we did.”

De Bruijn was the undoubted women’s star of the Sydney 2000 pool winning the 100m butterfly gold in a WR of 56.61 in the final with WR times in both the semi-finals of the 100m (53.77) and 50m freestyle (24.13), adding gold in the finals.

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TIME TO CELEBRATE: (L-R) Coach Jacco Verhaeren, swimmers Mark Veens and Pieter van den Hoogenband and Pieter’s father, Dutch Olympic Team doctor Cees-Rein van den Hoogenband. Photo Courtesy: Jacco Verhaeren Collection.

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