The transformation was completed Saturday afternoon for Inge de Bruijn of the Netherlands.
De Bruijn went from a tearful Olympic couch potato four years ago to a jubilant triple gold medalist. And if there was any question, De Bruijn provided visual aid after she won the 50-meter freestyle in 24.32 seconds at the Sydney International Aquatic Center.
She posed for photographs after the gold medal ceremony. De Bruijn smiled and put one finger in the air, followed by another and then one more.
A Dutch hat trick.
“I came through--that’s the great thing,” she said. “I’m so happy I did it.”
Therese Alshammar of Sweden was second in 24.51, and American Dara Torres third in 24.63. Torres, who returned last year after a seven-year retirement, has won three individual bronze medals. Defending Olympic champion Amy Van Dyken was fourth in 25.04.
“When I got my third-place medal, I started crying again,” Torres said.
The tears continued to flow even when the color of the medal turned from bronze to gold. Torres anchored the world-record setting 400 medley relay. The team of B.J. Bedford, Megan Quann, Jenny Thompson and Torres went 3:58.30, breaking the previous mark of 4:01.67 set by China in 1994.
For Thompson, it was her eighth career gold medal--all coming in relays--and 10th career medal.
The American men won the final gold, as the team of Lenny Krayzelburg, Ed Moses, Ian Crocker and Gary Hall Jr. set a world record of 3:33.73 in the 400 medley relay. The Americans held the previous mark, 3:34.84, set at the 1996 Olympics.
For Krayzelburg , who swam for USC, it was his third gold medal of the Games. He and Hall combined for five of the 14 golds for the American men and women. In all, the United States won 33 medals. Australia won 18, five golds.
In the marquee race for Australians, Grant Hackett finally came through, ending the long reign of icon Kieren Perkins, who was trying to win his third consecutive Olympic 1,500. The top three--Hackett, Perkins and American Chris Thompson--all smashed the 15-minute barrier.
“What an awesome feeling to swim in front of this crowd. It was the meet of my life,” said Hackett, who won in 14:48.33.
Perkins was second in 14:53.59, and Thompson broke an American record, going 14:56.81. USC’s Erik Vendt, who became the first American to break the 15-minute barrier and establish the record when he won the Olympic trials, was sixth.
“This is a thrill, it’s awesome,” Thompson said. “I was really down after qualifying. People tried to pump me up. I had a real negative outlook heading into this race. I thought I would be a 15:08. I was feeling so terrible, but for some reason I did it today.”
Said Vendt, who went 15:08.61: “I always swim better when I’m within sight of the leaders and I think I went out too fast in the first 1,000. I just didn’t have much left.”
That was no problem for De Bruijn, the sprint star. She started off the meet strong, stayed strong and finished strong. After skipping the Atlanta Olympics because of a lack of motivation and watching on TV, De Bruijn returned to the international scene and had an amazing meet of world-class acquisition, including:
* Another world record. De Bruijn eclipsed her own mark, going 24.13 seconds in the semifinals of the 50-meter freestyle Friday. She broke her record of 24.39, set in June in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy,” De Bruijn said. “Somebody asked me what my limits are. I don’t know. The year 2000 feels like it’s mine.”
* An apology from U.S. national women’s Coach Richard Quick. Quick angered the Dutch contingent when he said this meet was not “drug free.” De Bruijn would not reveal the specifics of their conversation on the pool deck but said he apologized. Quick said he was not pointing the finger at any specific athletes or nations.
“After the world records, there were suspicions around me. I don’t think that’s fair. I didn’t want to let anything disturb me,” she said. “It was not easy at all.
* An invitation to spend time with the Queen of the Netherlands. De Bruijn, who splits her training time between the Netherlands and Portland, Ore., has received about 400 congratulatory e-mails. But the summons from royalty intrigued her.
“I’m going to visit the queen,” she said, bouncing up and down.
After this, well, maybe the Queen will visit her.