Mollie O’Callaghan and Zac Stubblety-Cook made it another golden day for Australia at the world swimming championships in Budapest with supreme displays of brinkmanship.
O’Callaghan overcame a touch of pre-race panic to take the 100m freestyle with an extraordinary late burst on Thursday before Stubblety-Cook appeared to toy with his 200m breaststroke opponents to storm through and add the world title to the Olympic gold he won in the event last year.
Their come-from-behind wins doubled Australia’s golden tally to four, while Jenna Strauch, in the women’s 200m breaststroke, and the men’s 4x200m freestyle quartet of Elijah Winnington, Zac Incerti, Sam Short and Mack Horton also added silvers.
The 18-year-old Queenslander O’Callaghan swept through in dramatic fashion in the final 10 metres to snatch her first individual global gold and fourth medal of the championships. She clocked 52.67 seconds to beat Swedish world record holder Sarah Sjostrom by 0.13 and American Torri Huske by 0.25.
Once again, the Brisbane teenager won it the hard way, turning sixth after the first 50m, 0.61 behind Sjostrom. But just as in Wednesday’s semi-final when she produced the fastest second-half of a 100m freestyle race ever recorded – 26.43sec – to roar from last to first, O’Callaghan again timed her race perfectly, clocking 26.71 for the final 50.
Even with 20m left, it looked as if she might just miss out before her jet-propelled finish saw her add to the women’s 4x100m freestyle gold she won on the opening day and her 200m free and 4x200m relay silvers.
“Shocking, it was bad, the worst-ever,” said O’Callaghan, reflecting on her familiar pre-race nerves. “I was panicking in warm-up, had a little bit of a cramp in my leg. I was just feeling dizzy, I just felt out of it in warm-up and I started to panic a little.”
Once in the water, though, she was nerveless as she became the fifth Australian woman to win the blue riband event after Jodie Henry, Libby Trickett and sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, once again demonstrating the depth of the nation’s female freestyling talent.
“It’s all about experience for me and I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said O’Callaghan.
Stubblety-Cook swam an equally extraordinary race. He was last after 50m and 100m, before rousing himself to get to third at the 150m mark before his long, slow stroke powered him away over the final length to win almost as he liked in 2:07.07.
That was way down on the world record 2:05.95 he had set in Adelaide at the national championships a month ago but the 23-year-old said: “It was a real race tonight.
“Coming off trials last month was a different mindset than what I had going into last year, as well as the different pressure. Tonight I just really wanted to go out and enjoy the race.”
The 23-year-old finished 1.31 sec ahead of joint silver medallists, Japan’s Yu Hanaguruma and Sweden’s Erik Persson (2:08.38), with his final 50m split (31.98) almost a second faster than the next best.
Bendigo’s Strauch earned silver in the equivalent women’s event, and was even in the hunt for the gold until American Lilly King forged away over the last 25 metres. Fastest qualifier Strauch clocked 2:23.04 as King, coming back from a Covid break, won in 2:22.41.
In the last final of the day, Australia’s 4x200m team could not get close to the US foursome, clocking 7:03.50, well down on the Americans’ 7:00.24. It left the Dolphins with four golds, seven silvers and a bronze, shooting them to second in the table behind the dominant Americans (14-6-12).