On the final evening, the crowd was finally what it should have been all week, giving a real and tangible edge to the Australian team. Rocky the mascot, a bright red rock lobster, had lots to dance about as the swimmers used that edge for all it was worth, increasing their medal haul to finish second overall behind the Americans.
Underwater whiz Misty Hyman (USA) had the early lead as a result of fish-kicking on her side up to 25 metres, and turned first at the 50 in 27.99. She was followed by the duo of Petria Thomas (AUS) and Susie O'Neill (AUS).
At the 100 Hyman still held the lead with a 1:00.75 split, with Thomas at 1:01.14 and O'Neill 1:01.71. O'Neill moved into the lead on the third length with 1:34.56 at the 150 and had a body and a half lead to the finish, touching in 2:07.93.
Thomas finished second in 2:09.08 and Hyman third with 2:09.98. It was an Australian sweep of the top spots and a repeat of the Atlanta Olympic results.
O'Neill said, "I have been pretty nervous all week. It was fantastic to finish 1-2 again (like in Atlanta). The crowd was so noisy. I was concentrating on winning and not on the times. I'm capable of going faster."
For Petria Thomas, her fourth championship medal was special, "Oh, my legs are hurting! I didn't come here expecting four medals at all. I'm so happy. It's unbelievable, it's blown me away. Finishing 1-2 in this race is the best," she went on. "On top of great results, we've had heaps of fun here. That's what I will remember about the world championships."
Bronze medal winner Misty Hyman was all smiles, "It feels really good. It's the last night, the last session. I'm just really happy to be racing here. You know, I came in ranked first, but I had nothing to lose. I'm more of a 100 flyer. I just really enjoyed this final." On having to limit her fishkick to 15 metres the next time she swims at a major event, she said, "It's just means another challenge. I have no control over that, and although I don't understand the need for the rule, I'm looking at it as a new and exciting challenge. It will change my training a bit, but not my turns."
Ralf Braun of Germany was the surprise early leader from lane 7 and had a body length lead going into the first turn (27.56). Second to turn was Emanuele Merisi of Italy (28.11). Braun was well ahead of world record pace.
The German led the field through the 100 m in 57.41, while Yong Fu of China moved up to second place. Lenny Krayzelburg (USA) advanced three places to hit third at the 100 in 58.81.
Going for broke, Braun was still leading at the 150 in 1:28.32, but it was a gold medal turn from Krayzelburg that gave him the edge on the final lap. With a half a body length to make up on Braun he powered forward to touch first in 1:58.84, ahead of the German's 1:59.23.
An impressive Mark Versfeld (CAN) came from fourth place to take the bronze medal in a strong last 50, his second medal of the championships.
Krayzelburg said, ".... my aim was to win the 100 and 200 backstroke and now that I've done that, I feel pretty good. This is my first big championship meet and now that I've experienced it and have come away with a couple of gold medals I feel confident performing in this sort of arena. It's the experience I didn't have in Atlanta."
Braun was pleased. "I'm very happy. It's my first medal at a world championship and with Stev Theloke winning the bronze in the 100 backstroke, we are the best backstroking nation in the world. I was planning to go out fast early but I had some problems with my goggles. But I said to myself, ÔI must go on,' and now I have a silver medal."
Versfeld was more than satisfied, saying, "That was a Commonwealth record and that's what I wanted. I had hoped to do a 1:58 tonight but I can't complain. I'm really happy with this meet." On the world championships experience he said, "It's been fantastic. I've spent two months in Hawaii and Australia, two of the most beautiful places in the world. I've been surrounded by good friends and had a great time, and on top of that we've done really well."
The shortest race is always a battle of nerves and concentration. Ying Shan (CHN) had the advantage after the start, with Sandra Všlker (GER) just behind, and Olympic champion Amy van Dyken (USA) third. This was the order at the 25 metre mid-point. Amy van Dyken then gradually increased her stroke rate and by 80 metres had moved into the lead. At the finish it was van Dyken with 25.15, with Všlker second in 25.32, just ahead of Shan in 25.26.
After netting four golds and a silver, American phenom Jenny Thompson finished fourth and just out of the medals.
Mission accomplished for Amy van Dyken. "One of my goals coming here was to win this race. The 50 is really my baby. Of course being the Olympic champion you always feel the pressure, but not pressure from anyone else, just from myself. I didn't know if it was going to be my race right from the start but at the 25 mark I started wondering, so I just put my head down and said to myself, ÔIt's mine, it's mine, it's mine.'"
Silver medal winner Volker was pleased. "It's quite astounding. I had a terrific start and although I had a little problem with my rhythm in the middle of the race I was able to get over that. I got the silver and swam exactly the same time as this morning."
Ying Shan in third was not too happy. "I'm not satisfied with my performance because I've been affected by the atmosphere and the media pressure on us here."
The favourites were the European champion Emiliano Brembilla of Italy in lane 2, and the emerging young Australian distance swimmer, Grant Hackett. Swimming in lane 7, Hackett went straight to the front, and it was clear he meant business. He had trailled his legs in the prelims to save them for the final, but now he used a steady four-beat kick.
At 100 Hackett was out in front (55.67) and under championship record pace. Daniel Kowalski (AUS) followed in 56.49. Tyler Painter (USA) and top qualifier Ryk Neethling (RSA) were stroke for stroke, with the American marginally ahead in 57.72.
Hackett looked strong at the 200 (1:54.62), one and a half body lengths ahead of Kowalski with another half body length on Neethling.
At 400, Hackett turned in 3:53.99, followed by Kowalski (3:56.73), Ukrainian Igor Snitko (3:58.57), and Brembilla (3:59.07).
Splitting nearly perfect minutes, Hackett kept an impressive lead all the way, with Kowalski following him for just over half the race. At 900 Brembilla and Snitko began creeping up and by the 1000 mark the Italian had overtaken Kowalski by two body lengths. Snitko was in fourth, and moved up to third at the 1100, as Kowalski was tiring.
With 100 to go Hackett (13:54.39) was unstoppable and had a seven second lead over the Italian, and the Ukranian (14:06.29) had a one-and-a-half body lead over Kowalski.
The 17-year-old leader went on with seemingly effortless ease to join the greats of 1500 metres, clocking 14:51.70 to nab third spot on the world All Time best list, behind countryman Kieren Perkins and Germany's Jorg Hoffman.
Brembilla, recovering from a virus that struck him before the New Year, swam a creditable 15:00.59 to take silver for Italy.
Experience paid off for Kowalski in the last 100, where he regained the lead from Snitko and took the bronze in 15:03.94, to Snitko's 15:04.30.
Hackett said, "I was focussing the whole way through on my stroke and my turns which were most important, and I knew if I touched the wall first at every lap no one was going to beat me for the world title." Grinning, he added, "I know I'm the third fastest man in history but it would have been nice to go under 14:50. I still feel like I have heaps left in my tank. I'm absolutely buzzing."
Brembilla said with a smile, "I am very happy. I came into this race to win a medal, especially after my 400 which was a bad race for me. But it's still not enough. I will be back in Sydney for the 2000 Olympics. I want to beat the Australians in their own backyard."
Kowalski, obviously disappointed, commented, "One day I'll get it, but I guess today's not the day. I gave myself more of a shock today than ever before. He (Hackett) swam awesome, but I wish he had got Hoffman's record. I think I'm lacking practice, but I got a medal."
The United States has never lost a medley relay. Its winning streak stretches back to 1960, when the event was first contested at the Olympics. But all good things do come to an end.
An inspired Australia needed a great backstroke leg to be in the race. The Americans were vulnerable on the second half, so they needed a superb front end.
They did not get it from Lenny Krayzelburg, who won the 200 backstroke earlier but was obviously tired from that effort. His split of 55.30 showed that much.
Stev Theloke (GER) actually had the fastest backstroke leg with 55.24. But Matt Welsh, (AUS) with his 55.56 kept the Australians close behind the Americans.
Kurt Grote moved the Americans into the lead with a 1:00.96 breaststroke leg.
At this stage Australia was less than a body length behind the Americans. Michael Klim (AUS) demolished the fly leg in 51.80, the second fastest split ever, putting his team a body length in the lead. It was now up to anchor Chris Fydler to finish the job, and he did. His split of 49.24 was sufficient to stay ahead of the American Gary Hall, for a final winning time of 3:37.98. The Americans fell behind when Neil Walker struggled to a 53.41 fly leg. Hall actually caught up to Fydler but didn't have the extra finishing kick to get the edge they needed. He split 48.89, faster than Fydler, for a total time of 3:38.56.
The Germans battled for third with Hungary. Hungary's breaststroker Norbert Rozsa split 1:00.64, the fastest in the event, that moved them almost even with the Germans. Hungary's flyer Peter Horvath split 53.14, moving them ahead as Christian Keller (GER) did a 53.61. Attila Zubor anchored the Hungarians to third place with 49.20 and a total time of 3:39.53, repeating their bronze from the 1994 Worlds.
It was a spectacular finale and the crowd thundered applause. Klim said, "That was our plan beforehand, for me to get Chris in front and to let him take us home from there. He went like a train! The crowd was great for us, the whole atmosphere was fantastic."
Fydler commented, "I was reasonably confident when Michael took over. I didn't know how I'd gone after the first 50, I didn't know where Gary was because I breathe on the other side. But I turned, put my head down and went as fast as I could. Fortunately I touched the wall first."
A crestfallen but gracious Hall said, "That was very painful. They got so much from the crowd, from everyone being behind them, it was great. I'm happy for them, I really am. We got that advantage the last time (in Atlanta), so I guess we'll call it even."
An elated Rozsa said, "We were trying very hard. I think it's much better than we have done before. It was only in my dreams that I thought we would win a medal."