Aug. 17, 2004
Athens, Greece –
Twenty four hours prior to his race in the finals of the 200-meter butterfly, former Florida State University swimmer Stephen Parry was glad just to have a chance at a medal. Now he has forever put his name down in the annals of Olympic history as he captured the bronze medal on Tuesday (August 17).
After beating American Michael Phelps in the semifinals with a British record of 1:55.57, he reset the mark by five one-hundredths of second at 1:55.52. Phelps won his second gold medal of the Games with an Olympic record time of 1:54.04. Japan’s Takashi Yamamoto won the silver with at time of 1:54.56.
“That’s just brilliant. It’s what the Olympic Games is all about,” Parry said after the race. “We needed that medal in the British camp. There are so many more quality British swimmers to come this week and hopefully I’ve got the ball rolling. It’s such an amazing feeling.”
Parry stayed ahead of Yamamoto in second place for almost the entire race. The former Seminole was 0.35 of a second behind Phelps after the first 50 meters and the American extended his lead to more than a second following the first 100 meters. Going into the final lap, Parry held a 0.17 lead on Yamamoto, but the Japanese swimmer swam the final lap a second faster than Parry to earn the silver.
“It got really exciting. Steve was pushing (Michael) Phelps and the two of them just took off,” FSU head coach Neil Harper said. “Stephen tried to make a move at 150 (meters) and caught up to him and it look for a second that he might pull it off, but he ran out of gas and the Japanese guy caught up to him and Stephen held on for the bronze.”
A member of the Great Britain contingency, Parry was fortunate enough to be in the finals, let alone capture his country’s first swimming medal since 1996. His performance in the preliminary round was less than up to his standards as he received the 16th and final spot in the semifinals. Parry redeemed himself during the evening swim as he beat Phelps and earned the top seed in Tuesday’s final.
“Sometimes that’s just the way sports goes,” Harper added. “He was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. He had a poor swim in the morning and let the stress and pressure get to him. Luckily for him it wasn’t damaging enough that it didn’t cause him to not make the semifinals. A tenth of a second slower and he’s not in the race.”
What it did for him was take some of the pressure off. Now he’s in the outside lane and had nothing to lose and everything to gain and you could tell he enjoyed swimming again. You could see by the way he swam that the weight had been lifted off his shoulders. It was fun to watch him last night. He tried to keep it low key tonight but it’s tough when you know the whole world is watching.”
Harper is in Athens working primarily as a coach for the Wickus Nienaber and the Swaziland team, but is also working with the four other current and former Seminoles at the Games.
While dreams of gold were on Parry’s mind, he has for the time being gotten the monkey of the back of British swimmers. Four years ago in Sydney, Great Britain failed to earn a medal of any sort in the pool, a first for the country since the 1936 games in Berlin.
Besides ending Britain’s eight-year drought without a medal, Parry also snapped a 28-year drought for the Florida State swimming and diving program. The team’s only medal came at the 1976 Games in Montreal, Canada, when diver Phil Boggs captured the gold medal on the springboard.
“You could tell that Steve was really relieved at the end,” Harper noted. “He had given himself a shot to win the gold and was able to hold on for the bronze. He said last night that he didn’t want to be fourth, fifth or sixth, he wanted to get that medal. He got what he wanted and it’s great to see that. He soaked it all up.”
This was the second Olympic finals for Parry in the 200-meter butterfly. He placed sixth in the event during his first trip to the Olympics in 2000. At last year’s World Championships in Barcelona, Spain he moved up to fourth before capturing the medal in 2004.
A nine-time All-American for the Seminoles from 1996-99, he captured the 1997 NCAA Championships in the 200 butterfly. His time of 1:44.28 at the University of Minnesota set the pool record. Five times an individual ACC champion with multiple relays titles, he still owns the conference record in the 100 backstroke.