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A multiple world and Olympic champion and record holder, American swimmer Aaron Peirsol is considered the greatest backstroker of all time
Born on 23 July 1983 in Irvine, California, Aaron Peirsol was only 15 when he became the youngest American swimmer in history to break the two-minute mark in the 200m backstroke. At the age of 16 he appeared at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where he won his first medal, a silver, over the same distance, an achievement that he celebrated by having the Olympic rings tattooed on his right hip. A year later, he claimed the first of a slew of world and Olympic titles, winning gold in the 200m backstroke at the 2001 World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka (JPN), breaking the world record for the first of seven times in the process. It was the start of a long success story.
Peirsol was one of the stars of the USA swim team at Athens 2004, scoring a 100m/200m backstroke double and picking up another gold medal in the men’s 4x100m medley. Four years later in Beijing he retained his 100m backstroke title and won gold again in the men’s 4x100m medley relay, though he was second best to compatriot Ryan Lochte in the 200m backstroke. His overall medal haul from his three appearances in the Games was five golds and two silvers. The backstroke specialist collected a host of medals at each of the five world championships he competed in between 2001 and 2009, winning the world title in the 200m backstroke, 100m backstroke and 4x100m medley relay on four separate occasions. During his illustrious career, which also saw him compete in several editions of the Pan-American and Pan-Pacific Games, he amassed a total of 36 medals at major competitions, 29 of them gold.
Peirsol broke the 100m backstroke world record six times in all, most recently on 8 July 2008, when he swam 51.94 in the American trials for Beijing 2008 in Indianapolis. He also set seven world records in his preferred event, the 200m, leaving his mark at 1.51.92 in winning the final at the 2009 World Swimming Championships in Rome. Two days later he helped set the last of five world 4x100m medley records, winning another gold in the Italian capital with a time of 3.27.29. All three of those records stand to this day.
Announcing his competitive retirement in early 2011, Peirsol said: “I ended up doing everything I set out to do.” A University of Texas graduate, majoring in government, he is now devoting his energies to protecting the oceans.