- 16 Aug 2004
There is no easy way to determine the greatest backstroker of all time, but Aaron Peirsol would be right up there.
The US swimmer had made his international debut as a 17-year-old at the 2000 Games in Sydney, wining a silver medal when he finished just behind team-mate Lenny Krayzelburg in the 200m backstroke final. And in the years that followed, Peirsol had gone on to establish himself as the best in the world, helped by the advice and guidance of Krayzelburg.
He won individual world titles and broke world records, becoming a fixture in the American 4x100m medley relay team, which also broke the world record. And as he geared up for the Athens Games having just turned 21, there was plenty of speculation that he would be returning home with gold medals from each of the three events he had entered.
Peirsol won his first event, the 100m backstroke, in dominant fashion, overtaking Australia’s Matt Welsh at the turn to power home and win by 0.29 seconds. Austria's Markus Rogan went from last at the turn to finish second ahead of Welsh, while Krayzelburg missed out on a medal by just 0.02 seconds.
The 200m backstroke produced another dominant victory for Peirsol. Having been fastest in both the first round and the semi-finals, the young American beat Rogan into second place again, this time by a wide margin of 2.4 seconds, to take his second gold medal of the Games. He did have a brief panic, when a judge disqualified him for an improper turn, but that decision was overturned.
He rounded off his Games with the 4x100m medley relay, an event in which the USA had been outstanding for several years. Sure enough, the American quartet won by nearly three seconds, breaking the world record in the process. Peirsol had lived up to the heady predictions and won three golds from three events.