Michael Klim was the outstanding swimmer at the 1998 World Championships last January in Perth. Since then he has not produced the goods, mostly from lack of work. Before these Kuala Lumpur Games, his coach, Gennadi Touretski, warned,"He's had three months of solid work, but we're not sure how it's going to go. You know, there were distractions after Perth and Michael needed a little time." Touretski went on to add, "But we have not raced in this period leading up to these Games, so I'm not sure. You can't do this thing (sponsors) all the time. Michael needs to understand this." The distractions came in the form of endorsements and personal appearances, which stopped him from training properly.
Touretski was not the only one to voice concern. Australian Head Coach Don Talbot said, "Michael had a great Worlds, but you don't have that every meet."
Klim wanted to do the best he could and had a lot expected of him. He did admit to having "three months of solid training. I've avoided racing so I could catch up. I'm prepared and hungry."
At 196cm tall and weighing 85 kilos, he stands out in any crowd, but when his head is shaved, he looks menacing. Shaving down makes him feel good. Of the body shave he believes, "You feel like a bubble in the pool. The water just skims off you. It is like slipping into silk sheets."
Klim believes his head shave does something for him. "You have to have the head for it and I have been told my facial features suit the look." After his body and head shave, he did look more like the Klim of Perth. But the question remained. Was he 100% fit?
In his first race in the 200 freestyle, he was not up to the challenge from 15-year-old Ian Thorpe. Day two was no better as he slipped another place to third behind fellow Australians Geoff Huegill and Adam Pine in the 100 butterfly, for which he is the current world record holder.
But the 4x200 free relay was the turning point for Klim.
Swimming the anchor leg, the pressure was on him to bring the team home in a world record time. Klim duly obliged, touching home in 7:11.86, with a personal split of 1:47.42.
In Perth, Klim found success after hard training and a hard year-long racing schedule. His preparation for Kuala Lumpur was so different. After the Australian Trials in April, Klim opted for the Gold Coast rather than go with his training partners to Europe.
"Basically, I was refreshed and was able to train hard. It wasn't that different from normal. I really enjoyed surfing with Grant (Hackett)." He went on to add, "I think it is important for us young guys not to get too serious-to be a little lighthearted in our approach. We are all progressing naturally in our approach and it is important for us to develop as swimmers without any limitations."
Touretski believes "to be a champion is to be an ambassador. Michael is an ambassador, so is his training partner, Alexander Popov."
Klim does not like to be compared to Popov, saying "We're two different athletes. He's best at what he does and I'd like to be best at what I do."
The answer to that is to train hard like Popov. After the Commonwealth Trials, Touretski was looking forward to getting Klim back into a regular training routine. One would suspect the same applies after Kuala Lumpur.