The Star-Spangled Banner was a regular on the third night of the FINA World Swimming Championships in Melbourne, with the USA vs Australia rivalry alive and kicking.
While the USA dominated the gold medal haul, winning five of the nine golds on offer, the Aussies were closely behind with three medals.
Emma McKeon sensationally kicked off the Dolphins’ golden evening to win the Women’s 100m Freestyle Final in a Championship Record time of 50.77.
Having not raced at the World Short Course since her first-time representing Australia at 15 years old, and now hailed the ‘greatest of all time’, McKeon was thrilled to deliver another gold medal in front of friends, family and loved ones.
“That was way too close. It was a tight finish but what counts is getting your hand on the wall first, that’s everything. I haven’t swum a short course Championship for a while.
“My family are in the stands tonight including both of my grandparents who don’t get to see that many of my meets… I wanted to win for them as well. My grandparents, my parents and my brother have been my biggest supporters.
“I actually feel like this is the first time that I have felt a little pressure, but maybe that’s because so many came to watch. It’s a different kind of pressure, but one that I have enjoyed,” she said.
The home crowd didn’t have to wait long for another gold for the Aussie Dolphins, with Kyle Chalmers delivering an emphatic win in the Men’s 100m Freestyle, also setting a new Championship Record of 45.16.
It was the hotly contested showdown Australian fans have been talking about, with Chalmers, the defending World Champion, taking on teen sensation David Popovici (Romania) who holds the record in the long course.
Chalmers, like the rest of the Australian Dolphins, was honoured to have his family and friends on hand for support.
“It’s always special to have the support of friends and family. If I can inspire the next generation to swim and perform then I have done my job.
“I swam with my eyes closed. I knew exactly how to execute my own race. If I close my eyes, then I don’t get carried away swimming someone else’s race. I just close my eyes and try to get my hand on the wall as fast as I can.
“I had to pull out of the last three World Short Course Championships due to injuries and health issues. So for me to finally make it to one, and to stand on the top of the podium, is something I am going to remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
Chalmers capped off an incredible night anchoring the Men’s 4x50m Freestyle Relay for Australia that won gold. In an incredible performance from the Olympic champion, Chalmers delivered a jaw dropping performance to clinch he and his teammates, Isaac Cooper, Matt Temple and Flynn Southam, the gold medal.
Entering the water in fifth spot, trailing 0.62 seconds, Chalmers had his head down and managed to close the gap, eyes shut, and touch the wall in first place.
His teammates couldn’t believe what had just happened.
“I think that’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” Temple said.
“We’re coming out World Champions with our families in the crowd. I’m speechless. It’s always something special to race with others, especially for your own country. Kyle’s strength is coming home in the back end and I think he loves the anchor.”
A 17 year old Southam added: “It’s just pretty crazy for me you know… getting to do it with some good boys… it definitely hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Nic Fink (USA) is now firmly the cream of the best breaststroke crop in the 100m final, with the 29-year-old now holding the World Titles in both the long course and short course.
“I am really happy with this result. This is a good one to start the meet and I am looking forward to defending the other two (breaststroke) events as well. I was really happy with the World Cup season and completing the trifecta (50-100-200),” he said.
Lilly King (USA) added her fifth FINA World Championship title in the 25m pool to the 10 she has in long course tonight, winning the Women’s 100m Breastroke Final in 1:02.67. Tes Schouten of the Netherlands took silver in 1:03.90 while Germany’s Anna Elendt earnt bronze in 1:04.05.
“I’m glad it looked good because it hurt a lot,” said King.
“I talked with my coach Ray (Looze) this morning and he told me I needed to be out first at the 50m. I don’t know that I was, but I went out as hard as I could and prayed I could hold out at the end,” she said.
An emotional Chad Le Clos (RSA) delivered a crowd pleasing performance to take out the 200m butterfly, with the win reducing the veteran to tears. He came from nowhere to claim his fifth World Short Course 200m butterfly crown.
“I have no words. I am just so grateful that I have my coach behind me. I am coming from such a tough place right now, and I am sorry that I am emotional. To be a World Champion is like a dream come true again,” he said.
“It means so much to me and my family. I have been waiting so long for this moment. I have been waiting four years to become World Champion again. It comes after defeat after defeat. Tonight, I had to fight back against defeat.
“It’s just a mindset change that came about just in the last few weeks. I want to say congrats to Daiya (Seto) and to Noe (Ponti), both huge competitors and I have a lot of respect for both of them,” he said.
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