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The American women proved outstanding in the swimming relays at Atlanta 1996. Among their many star performers, nobody shone more brightly than Jenny Thompson. Entered in three events, she ended the Games with three gold medals.
A native of New Hampshire, Thompson began swimming when she was seven years old. By the age of 14, she was competing internationally, winning the 50m freestyle at the Pan American Games in 1987.
Her Olympic debut came in 1992, and produced a silver medal in the 100m freestyle. However, it was in the relays that she was starting to make her greatest mark, winning golds as part of the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley teams.
Although she tried to qualify for the individual events at the 1996 Games, but, by her own standards, performed poorly at the US trials, failing to earn selection. Redemption, though, was to come in the relays.
Thompson had a particular skill as a relay swimmer. In addition to being given the chance to help defend the two titles won in Barcelona, she was also selected for the 4x200m freestyle team.
First up was the 4x100m final, in which the Chinese took an early lead through Le Jingyi. A strong second leg from Amy Van Dyken put the USA into the lead, and Thompson took over the anchor leg with a comfortable advantage, coming home a full second ahead of the field to set a new Olympic record.
A second gold came in the medley relay, and then, 24 hours later, she was swimming the anchor leg in the 4x200m freestyle. Once again the USA trailed after the first leg, with Germany holding the early advantage, but yet again they forced their way back into contention, and Thompson brought them home in another Olympic record time, a huge 1.68 seconds ahead of the Germans.
That meant that Thompson had a fifth gold medal, and all of them had been secured in relay events. Over the course of the next two Olympic Games, she went on to win a further three golds and two silvers in the relay events, as well as a bronze medal in the individual 200m freestyle at Sydney 2000.