An athlete only gets to be the underdog once, in Zac Stubblety-Cook's mind, and he took full advantage of that to stun the world in the 200m breaststroke and claiming Australia's fifth gold medal in the pool – and the first by a male – in a frenetic day of finals at the Tokyo Olympics.
These were supposed to be familiarisation Games for Stubblety-Cook, warm-up Olympics getting him ready for the real thing in Paris in 2024. That was the way he was thinking. Certainly, his mother Julie was deliberately keeping her expectations low even though her son came into this event with a fourth placing at the world championships and the second-fastest time on the planet this year.
But so steadily – and surprisingly stealthily – he progressed through the heats and semis here that no-one really gave him a chance of winning, even when he qualified fastest for the final. And that was exactly how it played out in the gold medal-decider, with the Netherlands' Arno Kamminga leading the field out in 1:00.09, more than two seconds under the World Record pace.
The 22-year-old Australian was back in fourth place, one of seven swimmers going faster than Russian Anton Chupkov's World Record pace. Those who had paid close attention, however, might have sensed what was about to happen. Stubblety-Cook comes home like a train without a station. Indeed, he made up an astonishing two seconds on Kamminga in the final lap alone as he swept past his rivals to claim the gold medal in a new Olympic Record time of 2:06.38.
Kamminga held on for the silver in 2:07.01, with Matti Mattsson winning only the fifth swimming medal for Finland with his 2:07.13 clocking.
"You only can be an underdog once and I had that luxury here today," Stubblety-Cook said after the event. "I was just happy to be here and even more happy with the result."
He knows the way he swims the race causes all his supporters' stress. In fact, it causes him some stress as well but that is the way nature has equipped him and so he does his best.
"I knew there would be a few people who were going for it early. That's the way it was five years ago in Rio and I knew that someone would be up there. I'm just glad I was able to execute my race plan and do what I do."
For the full wrap of this morning’s action from the pool, visit the AOC’s website.