Whatever my reaction, I didn’t think, “I’m screwed, I can’t win”. I always recognised that the attitude you take into a fight is the result you’ll get. But when I was lying on the massage table before the final I completely freaked out. Before I knew it my heart rate was flying. Nerves had never been a problem before and I knew I had to get them under control – I just needed to recall the steps I normally took before a race. As I did I calmed down and by the time we were moving towards the marshalling area I’d worked it out. The only thing I had to do was deliver my best and I could be satisfied with that.
I went out fast as usual and at the 400-metre mark I had a look on the turn. I could see Dan (Kowalski, his compatriot and main threat) and the rest of the field and realised I’d opened up a bit of a gap. I told myself at that point that it was mine to lose.
I’ve had some races when it hurt horribly and others, like that final, when it didn’t hurt at all. In the end, it was a great victory, not because of individual rivalries but because I’d stood on the precipice of emotional destruction and beaten it.
MOVE WITH THE TIMES
“When you’re in your early twenties you’re full of growth hormone and you get fit fast, you get strong fast and you recover fast,” says Perkins. “After Atlanta I recognised I needed to cut down on swim-training volume and supplement with weight sessions.” Perkins ultimately bettered his Atlanta time in the 2000 Olympics 1500m final, but had to settle for silver behind Grant Hackett.
Perkins’ key tip for extra speed in the water – aimed squarely at triathletes – is “to point your bloody toes when you kick!” “I see it all the time, kicking with their feet at 90° to the leg. It’s like using a braking system under the water.”
“Swimming’s a technical sport and personally I have an issue with people being taught to recover with a straight arm,” says Perkins. “The science is dodgy. I think the bent-arm stroke is still better.”
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