RIO DE JANEIRO -- Incredible. You don't do what Kyle Chalmers just did. You DO NOT win an Olympic 100m freestyle final coming from so far back in the race.
But it happened. Eighteen-year-old Adelaide teenager Kyle Chalmers, who is still in the final year of high school, just won the Rio 2016 Olympics final after having the second slowest reaction time off the blocks, and after being second last and almost a full body length behind the leaders at the turn.
The secret to his dazzling finish? No, it's not his giant feet which barely fit on the starting blocks and which were size 15 when he was just 13-years-old. It's that he loves the pain. Absolutely thrives on it.
"I knew that I had a lot of work to do [at the turn] but I love the sting and when I got to that last 15 and started burning up I knew that I'd done so much training that I could push myself that last 15 metres."
Wow. While all the focus has been on pre-race favourite Cameron McEvoy, who finished a disappointing seventh, here's a guy with a different but no less impressive kind of discipline.
McEvoy, as we know, is into physics and spends as much time studying as he does training. Chalmers has the fortitude to know who he is, and how he races. He has a plan and sticks to it. He doesn't flail around madly trying to keep up in those first 50 metres. He just waits. And then pounces, with those enormous strokes.
All week Chalmers has come from the rear of the field. He was eighth in his heat halfway mark, but won. He was seventh at the halfway mark of his semi, at which point even seasoned swimming watchers found themselves thinking 'uh-oh". But he won that race too.
"It's awesome. I've probably got some mixed emotions because I was racing against one of my great mates [McEvoy], but I'm very excited with tonight," Chalmers said immediately after the race.
"I think it's just that I had that mental belief that I could do that."
Kyle Chalmers. What.— Mack Horton (@_mackhorton) August 11, 2016
McEvoy was incredibly magnanimous in defeat.
"I guess the rest of Australia can get excited about a young 18 year-old at the start of his career," he said. "He's Olympic champion and from what I can see he's got a lot more improvement."
Chalmers, who was born in the SA town of Port Lincoln, has only been swimming in senior international swim meets for a year. He is the son of an AFL player, in Brett Chalmers. Coming to Rio, he still had half an eye on following in his dad's footsteps. He's pretty much given away that plan now.
"I'm definitely glad I chose this sport now," he said with that big cheesy Kyle Chalmers grin splayed across his boyish face. "This would have been my draft year for footy and that's probably been playing in the back of my mind as well, but this proves I chose the right sport."
It proves Australia is back on track in the pool in Rio too, after a flat couple of nights since the double-gold on the opening night of swimming finals.
The 100m freestyle is an event Australia had not won at the Olympics since Mexico City way back in 1968. We looked to have the event in our grasp at London 2012, but James Magnussen got touched out by the agonising margin of 0.01 of a second behind Nathan Adrian of the USA.
This time, it was an Aussie who got the touch. Chalmers won with a time of 47.58. Belgium's Pieter Timmers took silver with 47.80 and Nathan Adrian claimed the bronze in 47.85.
"I've been training to go 47.5 and to turn around tonight and see that on the board was very exciting for me, just having that mental courage to be able to control my first 50 and then work that back 50," Chalmers said.
Chalmers later revealed that he had received inspirational messages from the likes of Ian Thorpe, and from Kevin Durant, a U.S. basketball star who now plays for the Golden State Warriors. Chalmers is such a basketball fan, he was there at the decisive Game Seven of the NBA finals earlier this year.
Tonight, it was all about him. And he handled it so well. Huge feet, huge heart, but not a huge head.
🇦🇺 Kyle Chalmers won the men's 100-meter freestyle, ahead of 🇧🇪 Pieter Timmers and 🇺🇸 Nathan Adrian pic.twitter.com/byDo1CgHPW— NYT Graphics (@nytgraphics) 11 de agosto de 2016
AND IN OTHER EXCELLENT SWIMMING NEWS...
Australia's Madeline Groves won silver in the 200m butterfly final. The bubbly Brisbane swimmer led early and held her advantage until the final lap when she was overtaken by Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain.
It was so close. Just 0.03 of a second separated the 21-year-old from the gold. There really was nothing in it. Groves overcame neck and shoulder injuries to make the Rio team, so this was a victory for guts and determination as well as swimming ability.
Later Australia grabbed silver in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay, finishing between the U.S. and Canada.