It was an important medal for Britain. The swimming team had drawn a blank in Sydney in 2000 and on the middle night of competition in Athens they had still failed to mount the podium. That was until Steve Parry lined up in the 200m Butterfly final and took a stunning bronze.
It wasn’t just stunning because of the result, but the manner in which it had been achieved. After all it hadn’t all gone to plan in the rounds, with Parry scraping into the semi finals in 16th place, just 0.05 ahead of elimination at the first hurdle.
Speaking at the start of 2005, having just announced his retirement, he recalled not being disappointed or worried, “more angry at myself really, and then it was weird. When I was swimming down this huge calm came over me and I just knew I wasn’t going to go out on a bad note and that I was going to turn things round in the evening”.
Turn it round he most certainly did – attacking his semi final from lane 8, going out in under world record pace to the 50 and taking the field by storm to qualify fastest to the final, ahead of a certain Michael Phelps. “Even now when I watch it back I’m always quite surprised at the change that came about from the morning to the evening.” he said in hindsight.
But that performance left him in a quandary; swim for a likely silver or take the race to Phelps and go for gold. “I knew I was obviously in good shape but I had to decide ‘Can I beat Phelps?’” he recalled in 2005.
“Twenty four hours before the final, and for the first time in my life, I actually believed that I could beat Michael Phelps and that’s when I lay in bed and thought to myself “It’s the Olympic Games, a celebration of courage, I’m going to take it on and see where I truly finish”. Unfortunately it was a bronze as opposed to the silver that I think I was capable of but I was proud of the fact that I went for the gold, and more than likely got what I deserved.”
Here’s that final – Steve looked like he might just catch Phelps midway down the last length, but faded at the end and was touched out by Takashi Yamamoto of Japan.