Swimming World Presents ‘Takeoff To Tokyo: “We Will Smash Them Like Guitars” – The Infamous Air-Guitar Race’ – Sponsored By S.R. Smith

Swimming World March 2020 - Takeoff To Tokyo Series - Air-Guitar Race - 2000 Olympics - AUS 400 FR Gold Medal Team - fydler, callus, klim, thorpe - Sydney 2000

Takeoff To Tokyo: “We Will Smash Them Like Guitars” – The Infamous Air-Guitar Race

By John Lohn

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More than 17,000 passionate Australian fans stood and yelled, anticipating a moment their country had long envisioned. The Sydney Aquatic Center was the focal point of the 2000 Olympic Games, and as the first night of competition came to an end, those who filled the stands in this swimming-crazed country sensed it was time for something special to unfold. In a little more than three minutes, the atmosphere would be either pure jubilation or complete sorrow. In the latest installment of our “Takeoff to Tokyo” series, we venture back 20 years to what has become known as the Air-Guitar Race.

Hope is a powerful sentiment. In the months leading into the 27th Olympiad, Australia was deemed a major threat to the United States’ stranglehold on the 400 meter freestyle relay title. With two bona fide stars, veteran Michael Klim and teenage sensation Ian Thorpe, the Aussies featured stellar bookend options for the relay, with the middle legs of Chris Fydler and Ashley Callus more than reliable. With the necessary ingredients present, Australia was confident it could capture—on home soil—the biggest Olympic victory in its history.

However, Australia’s optimism hardly dented the American belief that an eighth consecutive Olympic title was on the horizon. Despite the knowledge that this Olympiad would likely produce its biggest challenge, the United States boasted a daunting lineup of Anthony Ervin, an upcoming sprint star, Neil Walker, Jason Lezak and Gary Hall Jr.

Hall was never afraid to express his opinions on a variety of topics—from doping to the opposition—and brought to the blocks a showmanship that was unusual for a generally conservative sport. “I like Australia, in truth. I like Australians,” Hall said in an Olympic diary he kept for Sports Illustrated. “The country is beautiful, and the people are admirable. Good humor and genuine kindness seem a predominant characteristic. My biased opinion says that we will smash them like guitars.”

If Hall thought his comments were innocuous and were going to fly under the radar, he quickly learned otherwise. Newspapers throughout Australia picked up on the American’s words and, in an instant, they were splashed across numerous front pages and websites. At the same time, Hall became a villain, the “smash-them-like-guitars” portion of his statement seemingly the only part that received focus.

“As soon as I walked out there, it was like a gladiator walking into the Colosseum, hearing the sheer noise of the crowd,” Thorpe said. “I was ready to race.”

To read the full story of the infamous Air-Guitar Race of the 2000 Sydney Olympics,
Check out the March issue of Swimming World Magazine- Available Now!

Swimming World March 2020 Cover - Louise Hansson
[ PHOTO BY PETER H. BICK ]

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Before the men’s 400 freestyle relay at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, American Gary Hall Jr. proclaimed the United States would “smash (the Australians) like guitars.” However, the Aussies won the race by 19-hundredths of a second, ending the U.S. streak of seven straight Olympic gold medals in the event—and 15 straight victories, counting the World Championships! In the latest installment of our “Takeoff to Tokyo” series, we venture back 20 years to what has become known as the Air-Guitar Race.

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