Grant Hackett is the reigning king of long-distance swimming and the Beijing Olympics could determine whether the Australian is the greatest of all time.
The 28-year-old has won the 1500 metres freestyle, the longest and most gruelling event on the Olympic pool programme, at the past two Games.
In Beijing, he will try to become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics. A glutton for punishment, he will also contest the 400 and 4x200 freestyle relay in what is set to be his final Olympic appearance.
The son of a policeman, Hackett followed his brother into the rough and tumble sport of Ironman before focusing his attention on swimming in his early teens.
Tall and skinny with a huge arm span, Hackett possessed the perfect build for a long-distance swimmer and his versatility allows him to swim every distance from 200 to 1500.
He holds the world record for 1500 and 800, is the second fastest in history over 400 and once held the world record for 200. He has already won three Olympic gold medals and 10 world championship golds.
Hackett won his first world title for 1500 at the 1998 world championships in Perth, aged 17, then recovered from a virus to win his first individual Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games, denying his fellow Australian Kieren Perkins an historic treble in the 1500.
He was also awarded a gold medal in the 4x200 although he swam only the heats.
A year later, at the world championships in Japan, Hackett broke Perkins’ long-standing 1500 world record, stopping the clock at 14:34.56, more than seven seconds faster than any other swimmer has gone.
In 2003, he won the 800-1500 double at the world championships in Barcelona and won his second 1500 Olympic title at Athens in 2004, despite swimming the final with a partially collapsed lung.
Hackett spent most of his career swimming in the slipstream of his teammate Ian Thorpe, who regularly beat him over 200, 400 and 800, but laid his own claim to greatness at the 2005 world championships in Montreal, when Thorpe was absent, by winning the 400, 800 and 1500.
He broke Thorpe’s world record for 800 and became the first swimmer of either sex to win the same event at four world championships with his victory in the 1500.
Hackett had been unbeaten in the 1500 for almost a decade but just when he seemed unstoppable, the wear and tear of training started taking its toll.
He underwent surgery to his right shoulder in November 2005.
Later that year, he began having back problems and was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma.
He used his time away from the pool to complete a university degree in commerce and law, and left the Gold Coast to move to Melbourne and marry Australian singer Candice Alley.
He arrived at the 2007 world championships in Melbourne in the worst shape of his career and it showed.
He finished third in the 400, seventh in the 800 and seventh in the 1500, ending his unbeaten run in the gruelling event.
He still managed to win the 200, 400 and 1500 treble at this year’s Australian Olympic trials, although he will swim the two longer events in Beijing, and also failed in a bold attempt to qualify for the 10 kilometre open water event.