Voice For the Sport: Keeping Michael Klim In Our Thoughts As He Battles His Toughest Opponent

Michael Klim

Voice For the Sport: Keeping Michael Klim In Our Thoughts As He Battles A Very Different Opponent

As he walked toward the starting block inside the Sydney Aquatic Centre, an entire nation roared. It was a moment of opportunity for a swim-crazed country and for a relay that could disrupt the sport’s hierarchy on no bigger stage. As the leadoff leg of the Australian 400 meter freestyle relay, Michael Klim would set the tone and influence whether the venue—in a little more than three minutes—would be filled with joy or despair.

In Klim, the Aussies turned to a veteran leader for a jumpstart. He was a star of the sport, a sculpted figure whose physical talent was perfectly complemented by a mental tenacity that defines the great ones. So, when Klim produced a world-record performance on the front of the relay—a 100 meter freestyle outing of 48.18—the already-hyped crowd was in a frenzy.

Ultimately, Australia wrangled the gold medal in that relay at the 2000 Olympic Games, with Ian Thorpe anchoring the squad to a world record of 3:13.67, the United States claiming silver in 3:13.86. In an instant, Klim, Chris Fydler, Ashley Callus and Thorpe became national heroes, as they snapped the Americans’ seven-Games winning streak in the event. The relay is also well remembered for the Aussies’ Air Guitar celebration, a response to pre-race comments delivered by Team USA’s Gary Hall Jr.

Thorpe was largely credited for carrying Australia to the title, since his anchor leg featured a matchup with Hall. But without Klim’s heroics on the opening leg, the event would not be remembered in Australian sporting lore…nor as one of the greatest relay triumphs the sport has seen.

Last month, Klim’s career excellence was recognized when the 45-year-old was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2022. Klim was enshrined alongside the likes of fellow Aussie Jon Sieben, Japan’s Daichi Suzuki and American Craig Beardsley, and the stories he continues to share about his career are mesmerizing.

Klim’s tale, though, is also one of sorrow, as the physical power that once fueled him to an elite level has been sapped. In July, “Klimmy” revealed that he had been diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), a neurological disorder that progressively weakens function of the arms and legs.

The Aussie first experienced symptoms—including numbness in his feet—a few years ago, but fought through the pain. There, too, was an initial sense of denial. Eventually, Klim received his diagnosis, which was obviously difficult to accept.

“I couldn’t believe how the one thing that I identified with as integral to my identity—my strength, my athleticism—was being taken away from me and I couldn’t do anything to stop it,” Klim said. “Mentally, I have tried to stay positive, but there are times my motivation and beliefs are severely tested. I can no longer do the things I love and enjoy. My body is not the same.”

In the years after careers end, there is no stopping the deterioration of skills. Father Time is, and forever will be, undefeated. But what Klim is facing is heartbreaking, his condition cruel for anyone, and especially harsh for an individual whose body, now broken, lifted him to achievements only a small percentage will ever realize.

Klim’s condition requires the support of those around him to get from one point to another. Travel is difficult. And, in time, the daily use of a wheelchair will likely be needed. The positive? Klim has maintained the tenacity and mental strength which played key roles in his athletic success.

What Klim managed during his illustrious career in the pool will never be forgotten. We’ll always remember that special relay leadoff in Sydney. His seven-medal showing at the 1998 World Championships in Perth will remain etched in history. A total of 54 career medals from international competition will forever serve as proof of his greatness.

And now, as he faces his most-daunting challenge, we’ll hold Michael Klim in our heart and prayers, hoping for the best.

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