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Australia hails Thorpe gold record

By Greg Buckle
August 17, 2004 12:48 IST
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Bleary-eyed Australians hailed swimmer Ian Thorpe on Tuesday after he won the 200 metres freestyle in Athens to become the sports-mad nation's greatest Olympian with five gold medals.

They had set alarm clocks and drank coffee to stay awake through the night to cheer Thorpe as he took on the cream of world swimming in what was billed as the "race of the century".

Ian ThorpeMaking a weary way to work they were greeted with front-page photographs of Thorpe punching the air and the words "I'm Not Done Yet", an ominous warning that the Australian is already eying the Beijing Games in 2008.

"Thorpe wins the race of his life" and "Thorpe stands alone in history", declared the newspaper headlines.

Talk radio burst with nationalist pride and Internet chat rooms were buzzing with discussion of Thorpe's Olympic feat.

Prime Minister John Howard was quick to congratulate him:

"It's a huge honour to be the greatest Olympian in Australia ever," he said. "It is a tremendous performance."

In a nation where sport ranks above all else, Thorpe was already a national hero after his three gold medals and two silvers at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

His fifth gold, after earlier taking the 400 freestyle in Athens, places him at the top Australia's sporting pantheon, surpassing fellow swimmers Dawn Fraser and Murray Rose and runner Betty Cuthbert, who all won four.

Paul Bellotti, concierge at a Melbourne office building, said: "The man is a freak" -- an Australian compliment.

The Sydney Morning Herald said Thorpe would return "with the title of the world's best swimmer", no matter how many gold medals much fancied American teenager Michael Phelps wins.

At 21, Thorpe has seven Olympic medals in all, one short of the record held by Fraser and fellow swimmer "Madame Butterfly" Susie O'Neill.

"Ice man conquers in bloodless coup", gushed Sydney's Daily Telegraph tabloid, which devoted its first three pages to Thorpe's narrow win over Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband, Phelps and fellow Australian Grant Hackett.

"This was a heavyweight bout," it said, adding that the mild-mannered Thorpe had been out for revenge after van den Hoogenband won the event in Sydney four years ago:

"They say revenge is a dish better eaten cold. Thorpie was the ice man. Thorpie was back on the throne."

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Greg Buckle
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