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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bullet-Proof Perkins Struggles Toward Atlanta

SYDNEY -- Once described by national head coach Don Talbot as "infallible and bullet-proof," Australian triple world record holder Kieren Perkins is battling illness and lack of form at exactly the wrong moment.

Since the Barcelona Olympics four years ago, Perkins has been the world's outstanding distance swimmer, amassing world records and gold medals by the sackful.

But at last April's national championships Perkins's world all but fell apart.

He failed to make the final of the 200 meters freestyle and was comprehensively beaten in the 400 meters by his Melbourne rival Daniel Kowalski and 200 specialist Malcolm Allen.

Perkins, the Barcelona silver medalist, finished almost two seconds behind Kowalski's winning time of three minutes 50.60 seconds.

Perkins's options were now reduced to the 1,500 meters and, under the sort of pressure he had never before experienced, the 22-year-old Olympic champion took the courageous option.

Instead of swimming for second place from the outset, Perkins tried to lead all the way against Daniel Kowalski, leaving open the possibility of fading in the latter stages and losing his Olympic spot to Glen Housman or another rival.

Perkins finally ran out of energy but did enough to take second place, although he was clearly struggling.

Seeking an explanation for a traumatic few days, Perkins underwent several blood tests. The diagnosis: a debilitating iron imbalance. "It's not looking good, we are running out of time here," said a disconsolate Perkins.

Well before the trials Australian sports commentators had been questioning Perkins's motivation and recent comments from the amiable Queenslander have done little to quell the speculation.

Coach John Carew, who has guided Perkins's career since childhood, said: "Kieren is finding it harder to get motivated and I wouldn't encourage him to go on after Atlanta if he doesn't want to."

Perkins, a familiar face in Australia where he works as a part-time television journalist and endorses a host of products, took up swimming after an unfortunate childhood accident. At the age of nine he fell through a plate glass door, severing the calf muscle in his left leg.

Swimming was considered the best therapy and Perkins was carried to the pool every day, dropped in the water and told to repeat muscle-building exercises.

By the age of 16 he had won a place in the Australian team for the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games where he picked up a silver medal in the 1,500.

At the 1992 Olympic trials he broke the 400 and 1,500 world records and after finishing second to Russian Evgeni Sadovyi in the Barcelona 400 final he triumphed in the 1,500, also in world-record time.

Two years later he smashed two world records at the Victoria Commonwealth Games as the Australians swept all before them before going on to take gold medals in the 400 and 1,500 meters at the Rome world championships.

Immensely popular with his teammates, Perkins has assumed the role of unofficial spokesman for his fellow swimmers. But the burning question remains. Can he still swim fast enough to win a place on the podium?