Ian Chadband / AAP News
Image: Delly Carr / Swimming Australia
The Australian Dolphins have enjoyed their most successful night of the 2022 FINA World Championships so far with Mollie O’Callaghan and Zac Stubblety-Cook delivering gold medals in their respective pet events.
Mollie O’Callaghan and Zac Stubblety-Cook have made it a 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.
Then Stubblety-Cook toyed with his opposition in the 200m breaststroke final to storm through and add the world title to the Olympic gold he won in the event last year.
Their brilliant 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 then added silvers.
The 18-year-old Queenslander O’Callaghan swept through 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.
Yet once again, the Brisbane teenager won it the hard way, having turned sixth after the first 50m, some 0.61sec 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, this time clocking 26.71 for the final 50.
Even with 20m left, though, 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 the silvers she annexed in the 200m free and 4×200m relay.
“Shocking, it was bad, the worst-ever,” smiled O’Callaghan, reflecting on her familiar pre-race nerves.
“I was panicking in warm-up, I 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.
“I’m so proud of it, 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 to dominate the 200m breaststroke.
He was last after 50 metres and 100 metres, 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’d set in Adelaide at the national championships a month ago but the 23-year-old reckoned that “it as always just the game plan just to race tonight.”
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)
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.
Strauch clocked 2:23.04 as King, coming back from a COVID break, won in 2:22.41.
The Aussie had actually gone faster than that in the semis, clocking 2:22.22 as the quickest qualifier.
In the last final of the day, the Aussies’ 4x200m team couldn’t get close to the victorious US foursome as they clocked 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 gold, six silvers and 12 bronze).