Australia’s ‘air guitar’ swimming relay team reunites 20 years after winning Olympic gold in Sydney

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Twenty years after creating one of the greatest moments in Australian sport the men who won gold in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay at the Sydney Olympics are still tight.

Ian Thorpe, 37, Michael Klim, 43, Chris Fydler, 47, and Ashley Callus, 41, know they are part of swimming history and they are happy to talk all about it. 

They’ll talk about US swimmer Gary Hall Jnr’s notorious prediction his team would smash the Australians ‘like guitars’ and the post-race air guitar performance they put on in response. 

(For the record, they all agree Hall is a top bloke who was taken out of context, Klim and Callus were the best air guitarists and Thorpe the worst). 

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Michael Klim plays air guitar after beating the US in the men's 4 x 100m freestyle final at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. US swimmer Gary Hall Jnr had warned his team would 'smash' the Australians 'like guitars'. Ian Thorpe is far right, Ashley Callus far left with Chris Fydler behind

Michael Klim plays air guitar after beating the US in the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle final at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. US swimmer Gary Hall Jnr had warned his team would ‘smash’ the Australians ‘like guitars’. Ian Thorpe is far right, Ashley Callus far left with Chris Fydler behind

Three quarters of the 4 x 100m freestyle team reunite to promote the launch of the new Marvel's Avengers video game. Left to right are Chris Fydler, Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim. Missing due to COVID-19 restrictions is Ashley Callus

Three quarters of the 4 x 100m freestyle team reunite to promote the launch of the new Marvel’s Avengers video game. Left to right are Chris Fydler, Ian Thorpe and Michael Klim. Missing due to COVID-19 restrictions is Ashley Callus

Thorpe, Klim, Fydler and Callus say Gary Hall Jnr (pictured at the Sydney Olympics) was misunderstood when he said he would smash them like guitars. Hall, they all agreed, was a good bloke who liked to have a laugh

Thorpe, Klim, Fydler and Callus say Gary Hall Jnr (pictured at the Sydney Olympics) was misunderstood when he said he would smash them like guitars. Hall, they all agreed, was a good bloke who liked to have a laugh

They’ll describe the dramatic lead-up to the final in front of an expectant nation when Thorpe’s swim suit broke minutes before he should have been on the starting blocks. 

And they’ll reminisce about beating the mighty United States men’s relay team for the first time at an Olympics while breaking the world mark for the event.

What they won’t discuss is anything ‘crazy’ that went on outside competition during those glorious two weeks in September 2000 when Sydney hosted the ‘best Olympic games ever’.

‘We all have very strict agreements we’re not allowed to talk about what happened,’ a mischievous Thorpe told Daily Mail Australia about events inside the athletes’ village. 

‘The craziest thing I could tell you is that we were racing against all the federal police on these electric bikes that we had – it was racing against them around the village.

‘That’s about as crazy as I can tell you without getting sued.’  

Thorpe, Klim, Fydler and Callus have been reunited this week to promote the launch of the new Marvel’s Avengers video game available worldwide from today. 

Left to right is the gold medal-winning team of Chris Fydler, Ian Thorpe, Ashley Callus and Michael Klim. Thorpe was just 17, Callus 21, Klim 23 and Fydler the oldest at 27

Left to right is the gold medal-winning team of Chris Fydler, Ian Thorpe, Ashley Callus and Michael Klim. Thorpe was just 17, Callus 21, Klim 23 and Fydler the oldest at 27

As the team reassembles to mark the 20th anniversary of their Olympic victory they have swapped swim suits for gaming consoles to take on a new mission - defending Earth

As the team reassembles to mark the 20th anniversary of their Olympic victory they have swapped swim suits for gaming consoles to take on a new mission – defending Earth

As the team reassembles to mark the 20th anniversary of their Olympic victory these sporting superheroes have swapped swim suits for gaming consoles to take on a new mission – defending Earth.

While Callus has not been able to physically join his former teammates in Sydney due to COVID-19 restrictions, the foursome was able to conduct interviews – and join the Marvel Universe – online. 

‘To be honest, we’ve only been able to get back together as a team on a handful of occasions,’ Klim said. ‘So obviously this being a real milestone for us, 20 years since the victory, means a lot. 

‘We have to acknowledge that the swim we were a part of was part of sporting history in Australia and we’re so proud of it. 

‘I think we’re discussing it and sharing it more often as we get older, so it’s a really special time for us.’

Olympic super heroes swap swim suits for Avengers gaming consoles 

Australia’s gold medal-winning 4 x 100m relay team has reunited on the 20th anniversary of its Sydney Olympics victory for the launch of the new Marvel’s Avengers video game.

Marvel’s Avengers is now available worldwide for the PlayStation4, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia and its maker has recruited champion swimmers Ian Thorpe, Michael Klim, Chris Fydler and Ashley Callus to celebrate the launch.

The team is reassembling to mark the milestone but this time they are swapping swim suits for gaming consoles and taking on a new mission – defending Earth.

Thorpe said having the opportunity to celebrate the relay win anniversary through the game was serendipitous.

‘Going into that race, we knew it was going to take superhuman strength from all of us to win gold,’ he said.

‘Now, 20 years later, having the opportunity to actually play a superhero in Marvel’s Avengers alongside the team, it’s a nice tribute to that moment and a chance for us to relive some memories.’

Marvel’s Avengers combines the single player focused Reassemble story campaign with the ongoing Avengers Initiative’s War Zone missions, which take the Avengers around the world and beyond.

Each mission in the Reassemble campaign is designed to showcase one or more hero’s unique abilities, while the Avengers Initiative missions can be played solo with your own custom AI team or with a group of up to four players as any hero in the player’s roster.

 

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The relay final on the night of September 16, 2000 saw Australia claim a new world record of 3 minutes 13.67 seconds after Thorpe chased down Hall who had overtaken him on the last leg. 

Klim had gone out hard early with a world record 100m time of 48.18 seconds, followed by Fydler (48.48) and Callus (48.71), with Thorpe recording 48.30.

Thorpe had qualified for an individual 400m freestyle final by competing that morning and was not a 100m specialist, while Klim had swum the race of his life.  

‘Michael asked me what time he did because Michael is quite blind – he can’t see that far,’ Thorpe said. ‘I told him he’d broken the world record and he asked me again.

‘I said, “You broke the world record – like, it’s good, it’s faster than anyone else has ever gone and it’s as fast as you’ve ever gone, so it’s good”. 

‘It was like, “Dude, I’ve got to concentrate on swimming in a couple of minutes. You can work it out later”.’ 

Thorpe was 17, Klim 23, Callus 21, and Fydler the oldest and most experienced at 27. 

‘The atmosphere in that stadium out at SOPAC [Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre] was just crazy,’ Fydler said. ‘It was a really crazy night.

‘You hear these kind of expressions of the roof lifting off – it really was the loudest and most exciting place to be in the world at that time I reckon.’ 

The lead-up to the race had been intense, even without Hall’s comments. 

‘It was a pretty crazy time,’ Fydler said. ‘I’d had the opportunity to be in a couple of Olympic teams prior in Barcelona and Atlanta but that build-up coming into Sydney was like nothing else.’

As for whose idea it was to play air guitar on the pool deck after the team's victory, Ian Thorpe put up his hand while Michael Klim (centre) said: 'I think we're all claiming it.'

As for whose idea it was to play air guitar on the pool deck after the team’s victory, Ian Thorpe put up his hand while Michael Klim (centre) said: ‘I think we’re all claiming it.’ 

Thorpe (centre) said: 'Now, 20 years later, having the opportunity to actually play a superhero in Marvel's Avengers alongside the team, it's a nice tribute to that moment and a chance for us to relive some memories.' Klim is pictured left and Fydler right

Thorpe (centre) said: ‘Now, 20 years later, having the opportunity to actually play a superhero in Marvel’s Avengers alongside the team, it’s a nice tribute to that moment and a chance for us to relive some memories.’ Klim is pictured left and Fydler right

The swimming squad had a high profile and was expected to do well in Sydney, although not to win the 4 x 100m men’s freestyle final. 

‘The city itself and all of Australia was really starting to get behind the Olympics by the time the torch had started its rounds of Australia,’ Fydler said.

‘The momentum was really building so by the time we actually got into the village itself it was probably the calmest place that we had.

‘There was so many other athletes and people just going about their business it was actually a nice reprieve from the craziness that was outside.’

Before competition began Hall had said of his team’s chances against Australia in the 4 x 100m relay: ‘My biased opinion says that we will smash them like guitars.’

‘Historically the US has always risen to the occasion,’ he continued. ‘But the logic in that remote area of my brain says it won’t be so easy for the United States to dominate the waters this time.’

Ian Thorpe raises his fist after bringing Australia home to win the men's 4 x 100m freestyle relay at the Sydney Olympics

Ian Thorpe raises his fist after bringing Australia home to win the men’s 4 x 100m freestyle relay at the Sydney Olympics 

As Klim makes clear, no one remembers Hall saying anything but the first line.

‘Since then I’ve found out he was actually quite complimentary about the Aussie swim team,’ he said. 

‘But being sponsored by Gibson guitars at the time he said he was going to smash the Aussies like his own Gibson guitar. 

‘Obviously the media took out only that comment. We were at staging camp in Melbourne I distinctly remember opening the hotel door as I was going out for training and seeing the paper at my door and that was the headline.’

Klim said Hall’s comments were not used as motivation during the relay team’s preparations but they came back to haunt the American. 

‘We had the responsibility to try and lead the team – not just the swim team but you know the whole Olympic team – off to a good start,’ he said.

‘We just felt that we had an opportunity, we didn’t think that we were going to win.

'We have to acknowledge that the swim we were a part of was part of sporting history in Australia and we're so proud of it,' Klim said. He is pictured arm raised, celebrating the win with Ian Thorpe

‘We have to acknowledge that the swim we were a part of was part of sporting history in Australia and we’re so proud of it,’ Klim said. He is pictured arm raised, celebrating the win with Ian Thorpe

‘So I guess the gauntlet was thrown out there and Gary obviously created this drama and anticipation amongst everybody so we have to thank him for it.’

As for whose idea it was to play air guitar on the pool deck after the team’s victory, Thorpe put up his hand while Klim said: ‘I think we’re all claiming it.’

Fydler reckoned Thorpe’s looked more like he was playing a ukulele, while Callus, as the shortest member of the foursome, had to get up on a block to be seen. 

‘I would like to think I would have gone a lot harder had I known it was going to be such a big moment,’ Fydler said. 

‘It’s one of my great regrets – I really should have done a much stronger air guitar I think at the end of that. 

‘Ashley or Michael I think would be the lead guitar with the band. I think Ashley really took advantage of it and had a great strum.’

Despite their achievements, the victorious relay team never had a nickname, unlike the Mean Machine who won Olympic silver in 1984 and Commonwealth Games gold in 1982 and 1986

Despite their achievements, the victorious relay team never had a nickname, unlike the Mean Machine who won Olympic silver in 1984 and Commonwealth Games gold in 1982 and 1986

Callus said he was regularly approached by people who described the relay team’s win in 2000 as their favourite Olympic moment and he was happy to put the band back together. 

‘Given the restrictions that we’re facing I guess it makes it even more memorable for me, so it’s a fantastic opportunity,’ he said. 

‘It’s always great to see the guys. I hope we’re still talking about it in another 20 years.’

Despite their achievements, the victorious relay team never had a nickname, unlike the Mean Machine who won Olympic silver in 1984 and Commonwealth Games gold in 1982 and 1986.  

‘I think we’re probably not lucky enough to get a boy band name so we’ll leave it at that,’ Klim said.

Villain Gary Hall Jnr was just ‘a good guy’ who had been misunderstood 

Australia’s gold medal-winning relay team believes Gary Hall Jnr was misunderstood when he said the US swimmers would smash them like guitars. 

‘It’s a shame, that,’ Michael Klim said. 

‘I spoke to him about it months ago and he reflects on it with a little bit of bitterness because he feels like he was taken out of context a lot.

‘Whenever he speaks to Aussie media – even American media – they reflect on that relay and he was actually being complementary.

‘He’s always been that. Before the Games and any other relays that we’ve swum he’s always right up there congratulating us and he was the first one in Sydney to come up to the team and congratulate us. 

‘He’s been great for the sport and he adds that theatre and certainly added to the theatre in Sydney, that’s for sure.’

Ian Thorpe remembered Hall at the 2004 Olympics in Athens when he walked out to race in an Everlast boxing robe, knowing he would be fined $US5,000. 

‘We all agree – good guy,’ Thorpe said. ‘We get along.’

Chris Fydler: ‘Absolutely. He was always good fun and always one of those guys who came and had a chat with everyone.’

‘So there was very little offence taken by his comments at the time. I think we probably took them in the light that they were originally made, in jest.’

Ashley Callus: ‘I hung out with him a year afterwards at the Goodwill Games up in Brisbane and he was a lot of good fun, a good character.’

‘You don’t see that in the sport so much these days – or in our sport – and he certainly brought a lot of interest especially in this country to swimming. He was great.’

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