Australian teenager Mollie O’Callaghan has emerged as Australia’s next swimming sensation, stunning Emma McKeon to win gold in the women’s 100m freestyle final.
With McKeon blowing away everyone in her path at the Commonwealth Games on her way to a 13th career Commonwealth gold medal in Birmingham, you would have been laughed out of town for predicting she wouldn’t win the 100m freestyle on Wednesday morning (AEST) — an event she won the Olympic gold medal in at the Tokyo Games last year.
That is, unless, you had heard the rumbling that Ian Thorpe had in Birmingham.
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The swimming legend said there were signs O’Callaghan, the teen freak who turned 18 just three months ago, and her team could see her pulling off a monster upset at the Sandwell Aquatic Centre.
It was there to see when O’Callaghan pulled out of the 50m butterfly and gave up on the taxing load of swimming in all four of the relay events she was able to compete in. Commentating for Channel 7, Thorpe said the moves were made in a bid to give O’Callaghan the best chance of winning the 100m freestyle, which she did in an epic Aussie trifecta as McKeon picked up bronze and comeback star Shayna Jack took home silver.
“We have seen her compete so very well throughout this competition,” Thorpe said of O’Callaghan.
“We spoke at the 200m (freestyle) when she was just behind Ariane (Titmus), she’d also withdrawn from a few events.
“If you are watching what was going on, she was preparing herself for this 100m freestyle up against Emma and Shayna. This is the one where her team saw there was an opportunity, blood in the water, and the chance to take a medal from someone who’s been so tremendously successful across many events.
“Well done to Mollie O’Callaghan for being able to seize the opportunity. Shayna Jack also swimming well. Well done to the Australians, all three on the podium.”
Larger-than-life Aussie coach Dean Boxall was the architect of the operation.
The coach, who went viral at the Tokyo Olympics for his crazy celebrations at Titmus’ monster win over American icon Katie Ledecky, had been subdued inside the Birmingham stadium as he watched O’Callaghan — another of his pupils — push Titmus all the way to the line in the women’s 200m freestyle.
You can only imagine what his reaction would have been on Wednesday.
Thorpe also noticed something in O’Callaghan’s body language just moments before she jumped into the pool.
“What was interesting, right before the race, was watching Mollie O’Callaghan put on her goggles. Her hands were shaking,” he said.
“And everyone would think it is just nerves. Yes, you are nervous but you are also anxious and to perform well, you have to have your anxiety up to a level where it is not too much to be overwhelming but it is enough to get you over the line.”
That’s exactly what happened.
At just 18, O’Callaghan blitzed the field with an incredible personal best of 52.63 seconds, despite hitting the wall after the first 50m in fourth position.
“I’m really happy. And I’m happy to do it alongside these amazing girls. Especially Emma. She is an absolute idol,” O’Callaghan said.
“It’s really nice to race alongside her this time.
“And especially Shayna Jack too, coming back from worlds (world championships) and stuff, so I’m very happy.”
McKeon won gold in the 100m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics but just one year later, she was outgunned by her compatriots.
O’Callaghan put swimming fans on notice at the recent World Championships in Budapest with a swag of medals, and she’s shown the hype is real with a stunning effort to topple Australia’s queen of the pool.
The teenager won three gold medals and three silver medals in Budapest and there was the potential for her to win eight medals in England, but she clearly made the decision to sacrifice some of those events — including relays — to target the 100m freestyle.
It’s her first individual gold medal at a major international meet and comes after the teenager gave megastar Ariarne Titmus an almighty scare in the 200m freestyle final.
Jack, too, was sensational in the 100m freestyle final, coming back from a doping ban and broken hand to pip McKeon at the death for silver.
McKeon was all class after the race as she paid tribute to her Dolphins teammates.
“It is incredible. We get to push each other, year in and year out. And it ups the standard every time,” she told Channel 7’s Cate Campbell on the pooldeck. “You forged the pathway for us to do that, so we’re pretty lucky.
“After last year, I needed to keep pushing. And I know all over the world there will be young ones coming through and I have these two back home to race all the time.
“I’m still hungry as ever … I’m just so stoked to be here and be in the 100m with those girls.”