Jon Sieben’s victory in the 200 metres butterfly at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics represented one of the most remarkable upsets in swimming history. The Australian went into the final of the race as an absolute outsider, overshadowed in terms of altitude and reputation by the world-beaters Michael Gross, of West Germany, and Pablo Morales, of the United States. Gross was 200 centimetres tall, with arms that measured 225cm outstretched; they called him “the Albatross”, and his powerful wingspan enabled him to cover 50m in three strokes fewer than Sieben. Even at a less awesome 188cm, Morales still towered nearly 15cm above Sieben, the youngest and most untried swimmer in the race. Sieben was 17, and many thought he had done well enough already - having swum two seconds better than his previous best to qualify.
Sieben didn’t agree. He refused to be intimidated by Gross, who had already won two gold medals and was a clear favourite to make it three. A butterfly swimmer since the age of nine, he had competed in the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, finishing third in the 200 butterfly and winning gold in a medley relay. On the pool-deck before the Olympic final, he told his exuberant coach Laurie Lawrence to settle down. “I know what I’m doing,” he said. He certainly did: swimming to his own plan, he was well back early, but exploded over the final stretch, powering past the leaders to win in the world record time of 1:57.04 - four seconds better than he had ever swum before Los Angeles.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian