Australia has a new golden girl after teenage sensation Mollie O’Callaghan blitzed the field in a stunning swim at the World Championships.
Australian 18-year-old Mollie O’Callaghan overcame “panic” to edge world record holder Sarah Sjostrom and become the youngest women’s 100m freestyle world champion in more than 30 years.
Zac Stubblety-Cook took the men’s 200m breaststroke to make it a golden day for the Aussies along with O’Callaghan, who has emerged as a genuine superstar on the world stage at this year’s World Championships in Budapest.
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The teenager, a double Olympic relay gold medallist, edged 28-year-old Sjostrom of Sweden by 0.13sec in the 100m freestyle final as American Torri Huske took bronze.
O’Callaghan was sixth at the turn but just as she did in her scorching semi-final, hit the accelerator big time in the second lap and stormed home in the final 10m to touch the wall first, after looking at one stage like she might miss out on a medal completely.
At 18 years and 82 days, O’Callaghan became the youngest winner of the 100m freestyle since 1991, when Nicole Haislett of the United States won the title at 18 years and 22 days.
“It was bad, the worst ever,” she said of the pre-race nerves she suffered. “I was panicking in my bed, having a little bit of a cramp in my leg, just feeling dizzy, feeling out of it, starting to panic, but I knew I had my teammates there… I guess that kind of uplifted me for the race.
“It’s certainly weird at the moment to think that I’m a world champion.
“I’m so proud of it, it’s all about experience for me and I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
It was O’Callaghan’s second gold medal of the meet after Australia’s 4x100m freestyle relay victory, and she now has four medals overall to go with silvers from the 4x200m freestyle relay and individual 200m freestyle.
It was Sjostrom’s 16th World Championship medal but while she has eight golds, she has never won the 100m free. This was her fourth silver.
She also has World Championship and Olympic bronzes in the race.
Stubblety-Cook, who became a national cult hero by winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics last year, pulled out an extraordinary swim, coming from last after the first 100m to win the men’s 200m breaststroke.
The 23-year-old powered through the third 50m split to move up to third and maintained the rage in the final lap.
Dutchman Caspar Corbeau started off at world record pace, but faded and Stubblety-Cook, Yu Hanaguruma and Erik Persson, who had conserved energy at the back, came through.
The Australian won in 2:07.07, 1.31sec ahead of the Japanese star and the Swede who tied for silver.
There was more joy for Australia when the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay team won silver behind America as Great Britain claimed bronze.
Meanwhile, Lilly King added to her collection of gold medals when she won the women’s 200m breaststroke while another American veteran Ryan Murphy won the men’s 200m backstroke.
US star King had dominated the 50m and 100m breaststroke at the last two World Championships and also won gold in the 2016 Olympics in the 100m breaststroke.
After she missed a medal in the 100m breaststroke on Tuesday, her college coach, Ray Looze, told American media that she was racing at “80 per cent”.
On Thursday, she came from fifth to grab victory in 2min 22.41sec. Australian Jenna Strauch was second at 0.63 with American Kate Douglass third.
“It’s really nice to be able to complete the set, I guess I’m a distance swimmer now,” said King after her first gold at the longest breaststroke distance.
King said the setback earlier in the competition had motivated her. “Any time I have a bad swim I feel like I have a lot of haters out there, so just to prove them wrong is good,” she said.
Murphy ended a long streak of duller coloured medals when he won the men’s 200m backstroke.
Since grabbing two individual Olympic golds in Rio in 2016, the American had collected six silvers and two bronzes in Olympics and World Championships, including a silver in the 100m backstroke in Budapest.
The 26-year-old won in 1:54.52, 0.64sec ahead of Briton Luke Greenbank with another American, Shaine Casas third.
“That was a far from perfect race but I managed it,” Murphy said.
Kristof Milak, the Hungarian who said after winning the 200m butterfly that the Duna “is my pool”, strolled out for butterfly 100m semis like a lord strolling his estate.
Milak has struggled to catch American Olympic and world champion Caeleb Dressel in the 100m butterfly. With the American heading home early, the Hungarian star justified his aura of confidence by comfortably swimming the fastest time.
He finished in 50.14sec, 0.67sec quicker than Naoki Mizunuma of Japan. In the 50m, another event that Dressel has dominated in recent seasons, Briton Benjamin Proud was fastest in the semis.
The American men finished the evening by winning the 200m relay.