When Kieren Perkins won the 1500 metres freestyle gold medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996, he became the only Australian since Dawn Fraser to defend an individual Olympic championship successfully. He also did something Fraser used to specialise in - he overcame huge adversity. His final year of preparation was an essay in frustration… hampered by illness, injury, distraction, unaccountable loss of form and an understandable faltering of self-confidence. The champion who had seemed invincible, who still held world records for the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle, suddenly found himself battling to win a spot in the Olympic team. At the Olympic trials he failed to qualify for the 200m, then the 400m, but scraped into the 1500m behind Daniel Kowalski.
In Atlanta, Perkins continued to struggle, suffering stomach cramps that inhibited his turns, costing him 10 seconds, he squeezed into the final as slowest qualifier. On the final night he looked down on the pool and told himself: “I’m in lane eight. It’s the same water as the rest of the pool. I’ve just got to get in there and do it.” That’s what happened, as he led from start to finish to retain the title he had won in Barcelona four years before. Perkins, an asthmatic who had been taken to his coach John Carew for therapy after an accident at the age of eight, tried to win a third 1500m gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. He was beaten into second place, though, by a youngster who had been inspired by his feats, Grant Hackett.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian