08/16/2004 at 05:00 PM EDT
Ian Thorpe – not Michael Phelps – caused the big splash at the Olympics in Athens Monday night, taking the gold in the 200-meter freestyle and putting to rest the Baltimore 19-year-old's chance of tying Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven gold medals.
Defending Olympic champ Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands got off to a quick start that was more than 1 second under world-record pace at the halfway point, the Associated Press reports. But that lead did not hold.
Thorpe – know as "Thorpedo" in his native Australia – caught van den Hoogenband on the final 50 meters, touching the wall with an Olympic record of 1 minute, 44.71 seconds. The Dutchman claimed silver at 1:45.23, while Phelps never caught the top two.
He was in third most of the way, setting an American record of 1:45.32. But that was only good enough for bronze.
The race was the most anticipated swimming event of the Athens Games – perhaps the No. 1 event of the entire Olympics.
Phelps opened the Olympics with a world-record performance in the 400 individual medley to win gold, but settled for bronze when the American team faltered in the 400 free relay Sunday.