IMAGE|| MICHAEL WILLSON
Australia made the greatest splash in Commonwealth Games swimming history on the Gold Coast last night winning eight gold medals from nine events on a thrilling final night in the pool ensuring a record breaking haul of 28 gold and an overall total of 73 medals.
The victorious Dolphins put the icing on an extraordinary night’s swimming – never seen at a Games before with two never-say-die, nail-biting, medley relay wins – fighting back to overhaul the fighting Canadian girls and the brave Englishmen that had the 10,000 crowd roaring.
“I had never heard a crowd before…but I heard them tonight,” said women’s freestyle anchor Bronte Campbell, who raced home over the final 25 metres for the second time in two nights, splitting 51.67 to edge past Canada’s wunderkind, Taylor Ruck, the winner of eight medals in six days.
And in a heart-stopping final two strokes of the meet, Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers swamped English anchorman Ben Proud to give the Aussies the perfect finish –out-touching the 50m gold medallist and sending the crowd into orbit and maintaining a perfect record in all six relays.
Legends Dawn Fraser and Tracey Wickham, along with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – who joined the team on pool deck – were in the thick of the action as the home team rolled in gold after gold.
The greatest amount of Games gold surpassed the previous best total of 27 – won by the Ian Thorpe led Manchester team in 2002.
The milestones ticked over after almost every event with evergreen 25-year-old backstroker Emily Seebohm equaling the legendary Susie O’Neill with 15 Games medals after her gold medals tonight in the 50m backstroke and the 4x100m medley relay- giving her a total of four medals – two gold, one silver and one bronze.
Seebohm’s backstroke gold also represented Australia’s 300th swimming gold medal since the Games began in Hamilton, Canada in 1930 where Australia’s two-man team won two gold from 10 events – both to Manly lifesaver Noel “Tiger”Ryan.
Now 88 years later the sport has grown to 50 events with a National team of 70 athletes and a medal count of 28 gold, 21 silver and 24 bronze for another Games record total of 73 medals.
And joining his partner was the return of backstroking maestro Mitch Larkin who had already topped the charts in the 50, 100 and 200m backstroke and who was right on song to add the 200m IM in a Games record time before his 53.14 opening split in the relay to ensure his team had the perfect start.
The 24-year-old finished with five gold medals – putting him in the company of both O’Neill (six in 1998) and Thorpe (six in 2002)
Tonight will go down in history for the re-birth of a Dolphins team brimming in confidence, in belief and in team spirit reminiscent of the teams of late 1990s and into the 2000s.
The start of a new golden era for Australia’s premier Commonwealth and Olympic sport two years out from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Dolphins fought hard for every place – racking up a total of seven clean sweeps – including one tonight to the stirring 100m backstroke for S9s
They wasted no time building on their gold medal tally with the terminator, 17-year-old St Peters schoolgirl Ariarne Titmus setting the pool alight.
She added the 400m freestyle to her earlier golds in the 800m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay and silver in the 200m freestyle – tonight’s time of 4:00.93 (28:10; 57.75; – a new Games record, personal best and the sixth fastest time in history.
Titmus swam away from the field to leave English pair Holly Hibbitt (4:05.31) and Eleanor Faulkner (4:07.35) to fight out the silver and bronze with fellow Aussies Jess Ashwood (4:10.323) and Games rookie Mikkayla Sheridan (4:12.05) fifth and sixth respectively.
“I was so nervous before this race…I have never felt nerves like it, not that I was scared or anything, I just didn’t want to fail my own expectations that I have set myself. If I swam a 4:02 it would have been a fail, and my 1:54 in the 200m translates to a 4:00.00 and I’ve done that tonight and that makes me very satisfied,” said Titmus.
It was then to the 50m dash for the men with Proud a comfortable winner in 21.35 from South African Bradley Tandy (21.81) taking the silver with Australia’s Cam McEvoy (21.92) the best of the Aussies with bronze ahead of James Magnussen (22.05) and James Roberts (22.15) sixth and seventh respectively.
And then came the crowning glory for latest 1500m freestyle star Jack McLoughlin, coached by the wily Vince Raleigh at Chandler who led through 400m in 3:54.32 and the 800m in 7:53.35 in what would be a real fight to the finish.
Through 1000 metres McLoughlin started to work his legs and within 200 metres of the finish he had opened up almost two body lengths on Mack Horton and Daniel Jervis before the Welshman started out after McLoughlin and swam past Horton.
With four laps remaining McLoughlin had three seconds on Jervis and Horton, with Jervis reducing the lead toward the final 100m as he kicked on but in a great finish all three swimmers charged home with McLoughlin taking the gold in 14:47.09 (3:54.32; 7:53.35) from Jervis (14:48.67) and Horton (14.51.05).
McLoughlin, who will now set himself for the 800 and the 1500m for this year’s Pan Pacs and the 2020 Olympics sits behind 1998 and 2002 winner Grant Hackett (14:34.56), Horton (14:39.54) and 1994 winner Kieren Perkins (14.41.66) in an impressive all-time list.
He is the first Australian to win the famous race since Grant Hackett in Manchester 16 years ago and becomes the 11th Australian to win Australia’s race and the 15th time we have won the gold since “Tiger” Ryan (1930 and 1934) won the first two.
The Brisbane University student, described by Horton as “the hardest working swimmer on the team,” joins Ryan, John Konrads (1958), Murray Rose (1962), Grahame Windeatt (1970), Steve Holland (1974), Max Metzker (1978 and 19872), Jason Plummer (1986) Glen Housman (1990), Kieren Perkins (1994), Grant Hackett (1998 and 2002) in a who’s who of Australia’s and the world’s finest 1500m swimmers.
McLoughlin said the words of the great coach Laurie Lawrence who he had lunch with two weeks ago were ringing in his ears.
“Laurie said the 1500m is all mental and when you start to hurt you have to tighten the screws…it’s a test of will power,” said McLoughlin.
“I knew Daniel (Jervis) would be coming home and Mack has a sprint so I just had to have that lead and hang on.”
Raleigh said it had taken his charge the last two years to increase the mileage needed to be in the hunt for major international success.
“He’s tough…real tough and he’s a hard worker but it doesn’t happen overnight. He wasn’t used to all the mileage but he is thriving on it now and he is going to set himself for the 800 and 1500m over the next two years, with the 800m added to the Tokyo program for the first time,” said Raleigh.
Earlier the determined Seebohm clocked 27.78 to beat Canadian nemesis and 100 and 200m winner Kylie Masse (27.82) and defending champion and Games record holder Georgia Davies (27.90).
Larkin then continued to make his mark with a 1:57.67 in the 200IM to become the fourth Australian to win the event, joining Matt Dunn (1994, 1998), Justin Norris (2002) and Daniel Tranter (2014).
A powerful backstroke leg and a great final turn before his freestyle 50m, was enough to see Larkin hold off 100m freestyle winner Duncan Scott (1:57.86) and St Peters training partner and 400IM winner Clyde Lewis (1:58.18) just a fingernail outside his personal best.
Paralympic champion Lakeisha Patterson then swam away to her second gold of the meet, adding the S7 50m to the 100m in a time of 30.14 from Canadian pair Morgan Bird (32.03) and Abigail Tripp (32.49).
“If you would have said four years ago I would be here doing this I would not have believed it and I’m so proud to do so well and in front of this amazing crowd,” said Patterson.
Then Patterson’s fellow Rio gold medallist, 24-year-old Sunshine Coast lifesaver Brenden Hall came with a blistering finish to win the men’s S8 100m backstroke in 1:04.73 in Australia’s history-making seventh clean sweep from Timothy Hodge (1:04.99) and Logan Powell (1:05.29).
“I knew I had to work on my strengths, the back end and wanted to produce a good swim on the final night,” said Hall.
For the record Australia’s 4 x100m medley women (Seebohm 59.52; Georgia Bohl 1:06.85; Emma McKeon 56.42 and Bronte Campbell 51.57) set a new Games record of 3:54.36 as did the men (Larkin 53.14; Jake Packard 59,29; Grant Irvine 51.36 and Kyle Chalmers 47.25) for another Games record of 3:31.04.
“What a night….full marks to the team, the athletes and the coaches…what a night,” said an ecstatic Dolphins Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren.
One that will go down in history and be remembered for a long time to come.