On the penultimate day in the pool, the rest of the empire struck back. The backlash began in the 200 individual medley, when Canadians Marianne Limpert and Joanne Malar finished ahead of England's Susan Rolph to shut the Australians out of the medals for the first time at the Games. If the first cut was skin deep, the next two wounded the world's second-best swimming nation more deeply.
Spurred on by an England squad who sat in St George Cross formation, some in white shirts, some in red, James Hickman slayed the green and gold dragon in the 200 butterfly with a British and Games record of 1:57.11. With no sign of nervousness about any repeat of the false start that had marred his opening day at the Games, Hickman left the block as though hot coals had been placed below it. By the first turn of the four-length race, he had opened up a bodylength lead and at half way was inside world record pace, at 55.38 to the 55.57 split of Russia's Denis Pankratov in 1995. At the last turn, Hickman had slipped only 0.06 seconds behind schedule.
Then came the pain. Hickman faded almost 2 seconds behind the world record pace, though by then the race was all but won. "It was killing me down the last length, I was in so much pain," said the champion, whose talent was nurtured from the age of 9 until last autumn by Dave Calleja at Stockport before a switch to Terry Denison, the coach at Leeds who is now honing Hickman.
He said the early pace had cost him a faster time, but he had wanted to deliver a knockout blow to some worthy opponents, including Danyon Loader, the New Zealander who won the Olympic silver medal in the 200 metres butterfly as a 17-year-old in 1992 and was defending champion here at the Games. "I need to pace it better. There's a lot more to come," he threatened.
Runner-up was West Australian Bill Kirby, with England's Stephen Parry snatching the bronze from the hands of Ian Thorpe, who was testing the waters in his first international 200 metres race.
The race splits were Hickman 26.02 55.36 1:25.57 1:57.11 Kirby 27.30 57.71 1:26.47 1:59.57 Parry 26.68 56.77 1:27.74 1:59.63 The World record splits were Pankratov 25.61 55.57 1:25.51 1:55.22
Mark Foster-now coached at University of Bath, England's initial answer to the Australia Institute of Sport-was next to catch the wave that had turned the tide on Australia. After a false start that all eight finalists survived, the 195 cm (6ft 6in) sprinter got away cleanly on the second start and led all the way down the length of the pool. So powerful was his momentum, broken by only two breaths, that not even a finish too long in its glide as to be agonizing to watch could cost him the race, which he won in 22.58.
Runner-up 0.12 seconds behind was South African Brendon Dedekind, who at that point was the only individual to win a medal in the pool at the Games from anywhere but Australia, Canada, or England. Michael Klim, whose third place in the 50 freestyle earned him one of seven medals at the World Championship in January, could manage only the bronze.
Australia had some serious catching up to do by this point. Rachel Harris, from Subiaco, obliged with a slow 8:42.23 victory in the 800 freestyle, ahead of Joanne Malar, who collect her second silver medal of the night with 8:43.96, and Sarah Collings-Foster's Bath teammate-the bronze in a race that was close but slow by world standards.
Balance was further restored in the 100 backstroke, with Mark Versfeld adding the title, in 55.52, a Games record, to the one he won over 200 metres.
The session ended with another Australian victory, the women's 4 x 100 medley relay setting a Games record of 4:06.36, with Canada second and England third. That gave Susie O'Neill her fifth gold medal.