The flying Dutchman
Pieter van den Hoogenband is only the fourth swimmer in history to secure gold in the 100m freestyle at two different editions of the Olympic Games, equalling the exploits of Duke Kahanamoku (1912-1920), Johnny Weissmuller (1924-1928) and Alexander Popov (1992-1996).
Olympic debut in Atlanta
Born into a sporting family (his mother, Astrid, won an 800m freestyle medal at the European Junior Championships, while his father, Cees-Rein, is the PSV Eindhoven club doctor) Pieter van den Hoogenband took his Olympic bow at Atlanta 1996, where he exceeded the expectations of his coaches by finishing fourth in the 100m and 200m freestyle finals. But it was in Istanbul, at the 1999 European Championships, that he truly announced his arrival on the international scene, winning a total of six gold medals in the 50m freestyle and butterfly, the 100m and 200m butterfly, the 100m and 200m freestyle, and the 4x100m freestyle and medley relays.
Torpedoing Thorpe in Sydney
During the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australian fans at the International Aquatic Centre in Homebush Bay rose to cheer the feats of the host nation's swimming team on a daily basis; but “VDH” was intent on gatecrashing the party. He had particularly high hopes in the 200m freestyle, laying down a marker in the semi-final by beating Ian Thorpe’s world record with a time of 1:45.35, and then producing a replica performance in the final to beat the local favourite to the finish and claim gold. Two days later, on 19 September 2000, he set another world record (47.84) in the 100m freestyle semi-final, and in so doing became the first swimmer to break the 48-second barrier. In the final, even the mighty Russian, Alexander Popov, was powerless to prevent van den Hoogenband from capturing a second gold, as the Dutchman became only the third swimmer – after Michael Wenden (AUS) in 1968 and Mark Spitz (USA) in 1972 – to win the 100m and 200m freestyle at the same Games.
Pipping Phelps in Athens
Curiously, van den Hoogenband never won a world championship gold, instead collecting eight silvers and two bronze medals in the 50m, 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay between 1998 and 2007. He did though set a 100m world record that remained unbeaten for eight years. He also remains the only swimmer to twice finish ahead of Michael Phelps in Olympic competition, both times at Athens 2004: he claimed second place in the 200m, relegating the all-conquering American to third, and produced an astonishing anchor leg of 46.79 to help the Netherlands take silver in the 4x100m relay, ahead of the USA. On 18 August, he sealed his place in swimming history by successfully defending his Olympic 100m title, recording a time of 48.17 to overcome South Africa’s Roland Schoeman and his old rival Ian Thorpe.
Final fling in Beijing
Van den Hoogenband was back in the Olympic pool at Beijing 2008, reaching the final of the 100m to become the first swimmer to do so at four successive editions of the Games. After finishing fifth, the Dutchman announced his decision to retire from the pool, having firmly established himself in the pantheon of swimming greats.