RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 11, 2016 (BSS/AFP)- Australian teenager Kyle Chalmers ended 48 years of agony and frustration for his swimming-crazy country when he won the men’s 100m freestyle gold medal at the Rio Olympics on Wednesday.
The 18-year-old stormed home on the final lap after turning in seventh place to get his hands on the wall first in a blanket finish.
He won in a time of 47.58 seconds, breaking his own world junior record.
He finished just 0.22 ahead of Belgian silver medallist Pieter Timmers and 0.27 in front of American Nathan Adrian, the gold medallist in London four years ago, who went into the final as the fastest qualifier.
“I’m very happy with tonight’s execution of the race,” said Chalmers, who won the world junior title a year ago but has soared up the rankings to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
He became the youngest winner of the men’s 100m freestyle gold medal in 36 years but his joy was tempered by the fact his teammate Cameron McEvoy finished seventh.
McEvoy was ranked number one in the world heading into the Olympics but could not reproduce his best times in Rio.
“It’s very exciting but it’s hard in this situation because my team mate Cameron McEvoy has looked after me all week and I’ve roomed with him,” said Chalmers.
“I don’t want to celebrate too much because I know it would have been really hard for him tonight but I’m sure towards the end of the week I’ll be a bit more excited.”
“I’ve won an Olympic gold medal and he probably hasn’t swum to his best but hopefully he turns around tomorrow and swims well in the 50. He’s a great guy and we get along really well so it’s hard.”
The 100m freestyle is the blue riband event of men’s swimming, a race that tests the nerves as much as the speed of competitors with medals often decided by the length of a fingernail.
– Unfathomable frustration –
The last Australian to win the Olympic gold was Mike Wenden, at Mexico City in 1968.
For a country surrounded by water and obsessed with swimming, the wait for a successor has been an unfathomable source of national frustration.
It wasn’t until 1984 that an Australian won another medal in the event, with Mark Stockwell finishing runner-up to American Rowdy Gaines at Los Angeles.
The drought had already stretched to 32 years when Australia hosted the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and hopes of a breakthrough were high.
Michael Klim broke the 100m world record as the lead-off swimmer in the 4x100m relay but could only manage fourth in the individual final.
Ian Thorpe collected a surprise bronze when he entered the sprint at Athens in 2004 after winning gold in the 200m and 400m, but the last two Olympics have been the most heartbreaking for Australia.
Eamon Sullivan broke Alain Bernard’s world record, which had been set just a few minutes earlier, in the semi-finals at Beijing in 2008 only to finish a close second to the Frenchman in the final.
And four years ago in London, Australia’s James Magnussen suffered an agonising defeat to Adrian, losing the gold by just 0.01 seconds in the closest Olympic 100m Olympic final ever.
“I actually had no idea about that. I’m not someone who follows swimming too much. I kind of stay away and follow basketball and soccer and football a lot better,” Chalmers said.
“I know we’ve been beaten a few times when we’ve gone in fastest so I just wanted to do it for myself, my family, my country and all my friends back home.”