Race after race, world records fell with abandon in the pool. It started and ended with “The Thorpedo.” In between came America’s Jenny Thompson.
Thompson added to her Olympic legacy with a record-tying sixth career gold medal, anchoring the U.S. women’s 400-meter freestyle relay tonight, while Australian star Ian Thorpe put his mark on the games by easily winning the 400 freestyle.
In all, the veteran and the teen-age rookie contributed to the five world marks set on an exhilarating opening night of swimming.
Five records, four races.
Sixth Gold for Thompson
Thompson cruised to the wall, clocking 3 minutes, 36.61 seconds to better the old mark of 3:37.91 by China in 1994. She ripped off her cap and goggles and received pats on the head from teammates Amy Van Dyken, Dara Torres and Courtney Shealy.
“I don’t think about medal counts,” Thompson said. “It’s an honor, but I’m really not focused on that at this point.”
The 27-year-old Thompson and Torres became the first U.S. women swimmers to win three golds in the same event. Torres won gold on the relay in ’84 and ’92, while Thompson’s other golds came in ’92 and ’96.
Van Dyken sobbed and the 33-year-old Torres had tears welling in her eyes as the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played and the U.S. flag was unfurled. Van Dyken had endured two shoulder surgeries since winning four golds in 1996, while Torres is making a comeback after seven years out of the pool.
The victory tied Thompson, of Dover, N.H., with Kristin Otto of Germany for most golds by a female swimmer. Thompson also surpassed speedskater Bonnie Blair for most golds by an American woman.
Still alluding the Thompson, however, is her first individual gold.
Thorpe Lives Up to Hype
Prior to that event, the 17-year-old Thorpe sliced through the water in an electrifying 3:40.59, thrilling the crowd of 17,500 — many adoring Aussie fans — who saluted him with chants of “Thorpey, Thorpey” after he climbed out of the pool.
Thorpe lowered his previous record of 3:41.33 that he set in May at the Australian trials in the Olympic pool.
He then swam the anchor leg in the Australians’ 400-meter freestyle relay, helping set another world record mark — 3:13.67 — and putting away a tenacious U.S. team, which took silver.
The American men had never lost a 400 free relay in Olympic or world competition. They finished in 3:13.86, trailed by Brazil’s 3:17.40.
Australia’s Michael Klim set a world record of 48.18 seconds in the first 100-meter leg of the relay, shaving .03 seconds off the former mark, set by Russia’s Alexander Popov in 1994.
“It’s pretty amazing to be in front of your home crowd,” Thorpe said. “I’m so glad I performed well in front of them. It’s really a dream come true. I’m on such a high.
In that first race, Massimiliano Rosolino of Italy earned silver in 3:43.40, while Klete Keller of Phoenix, Ariz., won bronze in 3:47.00. Chad Carvin of Laguna Hills, Calif., was sixth in 3:47.58.
Home Crowd Goes Berserk
After touching the wall, Thorpe looked up at his time, and glancing skyward, mouthed the words “Thank you.” He then pumped his fists in triumph.
The only one wearing a bodysuit that covered him neck to ankle, Thorpe was first off the blocks and extended his lead throughout his signature event.
Fans waved green-and-yellow Aussie flags and cheered wildly for the biggest star at the Sydney International Aquatic Center. American first daughter Chelsea Clinton and Aussie golfer Greg Norman dropped by the pool to catch “Thorpedo-mania.”
“I really wanted to bring it home for the crowd,” Thorpe said. “I just had all this emotion inside of me when the crowd cheered when we all walked out,” he said.
He had set an Olympic record in morning qualifying, finishing in 3:44.65.
Thorpe high-fived fans as he walked toward the medals podium and received a standing ovation as he climbed to the top spot. He waved the red-white-and-blue Australian flag above his head and then carefully examined his gold medal, turning it over in his hand — as if he couldn’t believe it was really his.
“He makes it look so easy,” said awe-struck American Josh Davis, a three-time gold medalist at the Atlanta Games. “I believe he’s the best swimmer in the history of the world.”
Klochkova Sets World Mark
The first world record of the swimming competition came before Thorpe dived in the pool.
Yana Klochkova of Ukraine won the first swimming gold, taking the 400 individual medley in a world record 4:33.59. She broke the mark of 4:34.79 set by Chen Yan of China in 1997. Chen failed to qualify for the final.
Americans were shut out for the first time since the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.
Kaitlin Sandeno, a 17-year-old from Lake Forest, Calif., finished fourth in 4:41.03. Maddy Crippen of Philadelphia was sixth in 4:44.63, after qualifying with the slowest time.
Klochkova led the entire race. Sandeno was second before dropping to third on the backstroke leg at 200 meters.
Yasuko Tajima of Japan won silver in 4:35.96, while Beatrice Caslaru of Romania took bronze in 4:37.18.
Stage Is Set for Butterfly Final
World record holder Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands led eight women into Sunday’s 100 butterfly final by finishing first in the semifinals in 57.14 seconds. Australian Petria Thomas was second in 58.11.
Thompson qualified third in 58.18, just ahead of Torres, who was fourth in 58.35.
Domenico Fioravanti of Italy was the fastest qualifier in the 100 breaststroke semifinals. He led the way in 1:00.84, followed by Roman Sloudnov of Russia in 1:01.15. Ed Moses of Burke, Va., was third in 1:01.22.