As nature would have it with avalanches, the Australian one needed to gather momentum before it swept aside almost all before it. Just as rival nations were lured into a sense of false security by Don Talbot's cautionary comments and victories for England's Sue Rolph and Canada's Joanne Malar in between Simon Cowley's first title, in came the Thorpedo.
Ian Thorpe, buoyed by the triumph of Aquadot clubmate Cowley in the 100 breaststroke and lacking the fears and doubts of those older than his 15 years, lifted the 1998 Commonwealth Games to higher ground as he crushed opposition in the 200 freestyle, his 1:46.70 just 0.01 seconds over the 1989 world record of Italian Giorgio Lamberti. The teenager's effort was as electric as the lightening flashes that lit up the sky above the tented top of the resplendent National Aquatic Centre and triggered what would be a 10-race gold rush for Australia. Not until Canadian Mark Versfeld's easy win in the 200 metres backstroke on Day 3 would we cease to hear Advance Australia Fair.
A giant among Sydney schoolboys and swimmers, his size 16 feet poviding propulsion and balance to a classic high-elbowed freestyle like fins on a fish, Thorpe set about the demolition of teammate and world champion Michael Klim from the start. At 50 m, he was 0.2 seconds behind Lamberti's pace; at 100 m, the deficit was just 0.05seconds; and at 150 m, the Australian was 0.12 seconds inside the pace he needed to become the youngest world record holder among men since Stephen Holland in 1973. Pressed even less than Lamberti was in Bonn in 1989, Thorpe fell shy of his mark by the narrowest of margins and drew Klim and Daniel Kowalski to the first 1-2-3 medal sweep for Australia. The last time anyone had swum inside 1:47 over 200 metres was at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, when Evgeni Sadovyi clocked the time that Thorpe had now replicated; the Russian's 1:46.70 remains the fastest Olympic victory over the distance.
Gennadi Touretski says there is much more to Thorpe, who stands just shy of 192 cm (6ft 5in) and weighs almost 15 stone (95 kg or 210 lb.), than size. "He's got a good combination; softness, elasticity of movement, as well as natural size, smoothness of technique and a positive experience at such a young age."
The race splits were Thorpe 25.34 52.47 1:19.62 1:46.70 Klim 25.77 52.89 1:20.72 1:48.05 Kowalski 25.92 53.58 1:21.31 1:48.26 The World and Olympic record splits Lamberti 25.14 52.42 1:19.74 1:46.69 Sadovyi 25.37 52.62 1:19.72 1:46.70
If Thorpe's progress was impressive, so too, in relative terms, was that of Susan Rolph. Having shaved 0.14 seconds off the Commonwealth record she had shared with Karen Pickering for a heats time of 55.65, the Newcastle sprinter became one of only two women to stop Australian Susie O'Neill's record-breaking run on titles. O'Neill also swam inside the previous Commonwealth record, at 55.58, but Rolph's 55.17 took the Commonwealth into the all-time top 25 list, at position 16, after a lengthy absence.
Behind Rolph's advance is the weights program she started with coach Ian Oliver at the start of the year. That new emphasis on out-of-water work has included exercises with Carl Johnson, the man behind the success of Jonathan Edwards, Britain's champion triple jumper. Said Rolph, "I've changed my start from a normal grab start to a track start since working with Carl. I'm doing plymetrics with him, basically jumping up and down. It has strengthened my calf muscles and I feel I've got a lot more power at the start."
Tough-talking Rolph had taunted Australians with a barrage of battle cries against "the weakness" of their women. But when it came to the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, a Commonwealth record of 8:03.73 from Julia Greville, O'Neill, Anna Windsor, and Lori Munz settled the argument.