Sydney's Games: A Bluffers Guide

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Pool sports, which offer the pace of sprinting, the grace of diving, the endurance of the 1,500 m and the aggression of water polo, are among the most popular in the Games program. They'll be held in the 17,500-seat Sydney International Aquatic Centre.

Coastal-dwelling Australians are passionate about swimming, and at Sydney they'll be bent on regaining bragging rights from the U.S., the world's top swimming nation since the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Loud rock music between events, a fanatical hometown crowd and the prospect of several world records should see the Games off to a thundering start.

Sprint czar Alex Popov of Russia will be trying for a three-peat and immortality at these Games in the 50-m and 100-m freestyle, events he won in Barcelona and Atlanta. His strongest challengers will be Americans Gary Hall Jr. and Neil Walker, Popov's training partner Michael Klim of Australia, and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband. Australia's Ian "Thorpedo" Thorpe, at his first Olympics, is the hottest of favorites to win the 200-m and 400-m freestyle. He'll team up with Klim and Grant Hackett to power Australia to expected victory in the 4 x 200-m relay. Russian-born Lenny Krayzelburg, America's new golden boy of swimming, is the hottest tip for a 100-m and 200-m backstroke double. One of the best local contests will be in the 100-m butterfly, after Geoff Huegill beat world-record holder Klim at the Australian championships in May. Russia's Roman Sloudnov and Ed Moses of the U.S. should fight it out for gold in the 100-m breaststroke. In the 1,500 m, Australia's Kieren Perkins will be the dark horse; if he can beat younger rival Hackett, and Popov can hold off the pack in the sprints, the two old-timers will be the talk of the town.

The Netherlands' Inge de Bruijn, who at 27 is smashing freestyle and butterfly sprint world records, could make it veterans' week at the pool. One of her main rivals will be American Jenny Thompson, a five-time relay gold medalist who is set to become her country's most decorated female Olympian. Thompson is yet to win an individual gold, but her pre-Games form has been superb. Her teammate Dara Torres will also challenge for top spot in the 'fly and 50-m freestyle. Australia's sporting sweetheart, Susie "Madame Butterfly" O'Neill will win her second gold in the 200-m if she can outpace Atlanta silver medalist and compatriot Petria Thomas. The 200-m freestyle should be a duel between O'Neill and reigning Olympic champion Claudia Poll of Costa Rica. In the 4 x 200-m relay, Australia is expected to steal the gold from the U.S.

In breaststroke, South Africa's Penny Heyns is the defending Olympic champion over 100 m and 200 m, though Masami Tanaka of Japan has posted better times in recent meets.



  • 50m freestyle Sept. 22
  • 100m freestyle Sept. 20
  • 200m freestyle Sept. 18
  • 400m freestyle Sept. 16
  • 4 x 200m relay Sept. 19
  • 100m backstroke Sept. 18
  • 200m backstroke Sept. 21
  • 100m butterfly Sept. 22
  • 100m breaststroke Sept. 17
  • 1,500m Sept. 23


  • 50m freestyle Sept. 23
  • 100m freestyle Sept. 21
  • 200m freestyle Sept. 19
  • 4 x 200m relay Sept. 20
  • 100m butterfly Sept. 17
  • 200m butterfly Sept. 20
  • 100m breaststroke Sept. 17
  • 200m breaststroke Sept. 21

Already popular with spectators, diving is set to win more fans when synchronized diving makes its Games debut. Pairs must not only coordinate their tumbles but mirror each other's moves exactly.

Russian Dmitri Sautin, platform gold medalist at Atlanta and reigning world champ in both the 3 m and 10 m, wants to be the first non-American to take out both events at an Olympics-and could win gold in all four men's events. But Chinese legend Xiong Ni, who lost his duel with American Greg Louganis for platform honors in Seoul, has come out of retirement to defend his springboard title. Also worth watching is Fernando Platas of Mexico. In platform, Sautin's main rival is two-time World Cup winner Tian Liang of China, who, with Hui Jia, is a favorite in the 10-m synchro.

Chinese divers have won every women's gold since 1988. If she can win two events, Fu Mingxia will become the first diver ever to amass five Olympic gold medals. The 1996 platform and springboard champ, who also won the 3-m gold in Barcelona, Fu will focus on springboard at Sydney. Her greatest rival in the individual event will be her synchro partner, Guo Jingjing, an individual and synchro victor at the 2000 World Cup. The pair will be pressed by Russia's synchro stars Yulia Pakhalina and Vera Ilyina. In the platform, Canadian Ann Montminy is the main threat to China's Li Na, a former gymnast, and 1999 World Cup 10-m winner Sang Xue; the Chinese pair are also favorites in the 10-m synchro.



  • 3m springboard Sept. 26
  • 3m synchro springbd Sept. 28
  • 10m platform Sept. 30
  • 10m synchro platfm Sept. 23


  • 3m springboard Sept. 28
  • 3m synchro springbd Sept. 23
  • 10m platform Sept. 24
  • 10m synchro platfm Sept. 28

Synchronized Swimming
Besides having poise, strength and flexibility, synchronized swimmers must be able to hold their breath for long periods while upside down underwater, stay high in the water, cut clean, confident strokes- and make it all look easy.

Russian world champion Olga Brousnikina and her partner Maria Kisseleva blitzed the Sydney Synchro 2000 Open in April with four perfect 10s. They'll be pursued by Japan's Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda and France's Virginie Dedieu and Myriam Lignot.

Since the sport's debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the U.S. and Canada have reigned supreme, between them winning every gold and silver medal. But they could yet be unseated by Russia, the victors at Synchro 2000.


  • Duet final Sept. 26
  • Team final Sept. 29

Water Polo
With 85% of their bodies submerged, competitors in water polo can get away with a lot, which explains why this theoretically non-contact sport is one of the rougher events at the Olympics.

Water polo stars Hungary, who won six gold medals between 1928 and 1980, are again powerful and hungry for another win. They'll face strong opposition from Atlanta champs Spain, as well as Croatia, Russia and traditional rivals Italy.

Notably absent from the draw are Italy, the reigning world champions, who were beaten by Russia in a qualifying tournament. While Russia is in with a chance, they'll have to beat the Netherlands, who have probably the best player in the world in Ingrid Leijendekker, and Australia.


  • Men's final Oct. 1
  • Women's final Sept. 23