As a two-time Olympic medal winner and founder of SwimGym, my love and passion for swimming is limitless. Since this would have been the week of swimming at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I want to share some of my favourite Olympic moments that have inspired me greatly and made my jaw drop. So while we’re waiting until next year, sit back and watch these amazing moments on the world’s biggest stage.
Sydney 2000: Men’s 400 freestyle relay
This race would have been a race between the USA, Australia and the Netherlands if it wasn’t for the fact that the Dutch were disqualified in the preliminaries by taking over 0,01 seconds too early. Being part of that team myself, it was probably the lowest point in my career. Our team was ranked 3rd in the world quite comfortably leading up to the Olympics. After I stopped sobbing, I went to the Olympic swimming arena later that day and witnessed the most spectacular relay final ever. The USA had never been beaten in this event, but the Australians were determined to change that in front of a home crowed. Michael Klim of Australia opened the first 100 meters in a new world record, but that wasn’t enough to secure the gold. The fight had only just begun.
Beijing 2008: Women’s 400 freestyle relay
This next race is probably the proudest moment being a Dutch citizen. Our women’s relay team swam a world record in this event leading up to the Olympics of Beijing in 2008. But winning a gold medal by beating great swimming nations like the USA, Australia or China (home crowed) in an Olympic final is a whole other story. Or is it? Our ‘Golden Girls’ didn’t really care about the status or history of their competitors, as they swam away with the gold in a most spectacular fashion.
Beijing 2008: Men’s 100 butterfly
Let’s stay in Beijing a little longer, because this race will probably go down as the closest and most thrilling finish in swimming history. It was the moment where Michael Phelps saw his ultimate dream of winning 8 gold medals in one Olympic Games go up in smoke halfway the race of the 100 meter butterfly final. Milorad Cavic of Serbia went out fast but got in trouble a few meters before the finish. And this is where Phelps showed his true greatness as he pushed through the electronic touch pads with all his might and got exactly what he wanted: a 0,01 second win and another gold medal.
Seoul 1988: Men’s 100 butterfly
When Michael Phelps was just about 3 years old, there was another legendary swimmer from the USA: Matt Biondi. At the Seoul Olympic Games of 1988, Biondi won five gold medals. He should have ‘easily’ won a sixth gold since he was the absolute favourite in the 100 butterfly final. Up to 10 meters before the finish, Biondi looked like he was bringing home another gold. But then another dramatic finish happened when Anthony Nesty from Suriname out-touched Biondi with also just 0,01 second, making him the first ever black male swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal.
Rio de Janeiro 2016: Women’s 100 freestyle
When these 8 women entered the swimming arena for the 100 meter freestyle final of the Rio 2016 Olympics, everybody was talking about how Cate Campbell (AUS) was going to win her first gold medal in a new world record. And up to 75 meters everybody, including me, was still thinking that. But then it became clear that Cate wasn’t swimming her own race, that she went out way too fast, and that the lanes left (Simone Manuel, USA) and right (Penny Oleksiak, CAN) of Cambell were going to smash her at the finish line. A great race in every aspect, with also a very surprising outcome.
Sydney 2000: 100 freestyle (heat 1)
When Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea climbed on the starting block for the first time in his life during the start of the 100 freestyle Olympic preliminaries, nobody knew his story. I have never witnessed a crowed cheering on a single swimmer like that while Eric was swimming the race of his life. I still get goosebumps seeing this clip and it shows that the Olympics are not just about fierce competition and winning medals, they are about personal achievements when the whole world is watching.
Beijing 2008: Men’s 10k open water
It was the first time this event was on the Olympic calendar and to be honest, I thought a long distance race like a 10k open water swim would be quite boring to watch. But boy, was I wrong! I never thought a finish could be this exciting as Dutch swimmer Maarten van der Weijden (swimming without a swim cap) showed in Beijing in 2008, becoming the first Open Water Olympic champion in history. If you don’t want to watch the whole race, watch from 1h:45m and see how this tactical race unfolds.
By Johan Kenkhuis, founder of Swimgym.