Australia’s swim team has made a strong start to its Olympic medal campaign, with 21-year-old Brendon Smith winning bronze in the men’s 400m individual medley and Jack McLoughlin claiming bronze in the men’s 400m freestyle in the opening finals of the Tokyo 2020 meet on Sunday morning.
Heading into the meet, Smith was seen as only an outside medal prospect – his qualifying time at Australia’s swim trials last month was barely in the top 10 fastest times this year. But the Victorian asserted his dominance with the fastest time in the heats on Saturday night. In the final less than 24 hours later, Smith was unable to stay with American pair Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland, but held off fast-finishing rivals to clinch third.
After a slow start in the butterfly leg, Smith moved through the field in the backstroke laps to touch the wall in third at the transition. Despite losing ground in the breaststroke, dropping back to last-place, a powerful freestyle leg was enough to lift the Australian onto the podium. It is the first time in almost four decades that an Australian man has earned a medal in an individual medley.
Soon after, Australia doubled its medal tally with silver to Jack McLoughlin in the men’s 400m freestyle. The Dolphins had hoped to go one-two in the event, with Elijah Winnington and McLoughlin holding the fastest times this year heading into Tokyo 2020. But a stunning final two laps from Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui saw him claim an upset gold medal. It was only the third-ever Olympic swimming gold medal for the North African nation. Despite leading out to be ahead after the first 100-metres, Winnington faded to finish seventh.
Emma McKeon then put herself in gold medal contention in the women’s 100-metre butterfly, qualifying third to earn a central lane in the final on Monday. McKeon was off the blocks slowly and touched the wall at the halfway mark down on the field, but gained momentum through the second 50-metres to finish second in her semi-final.
A surprisingly fast swim from France’s Marie Wattel, who beat McKeon to the line, added even more competition to the final. The Australian, plus Wattel, American Torri Huske, reigning Olympic champion Sarah Sjöström and China’s Yufei Zhang - the fastest qualifier overall - will all be eyeing the podium.
The action at the pool continues throughout Sunday. Later in the morning finals, Australia are strong favourites in the women’s 4 x 100-metre relay. With a powerhouse team of Bronte Campbell, Meg Harris, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell, the Australians are expected to break their own world record.
In the heats on Sunday night, young hopefuls Kaylee McKeown and Ariarne Titmus will make their Olympic debuts. McKeown smashed the 100-metre backstroke world record last month and will be the swimmer to beat in her heat.
Titmus, meanwhile, swam the second fastest women’s 400-metre freestyle in history at Australia’s Olympic trials. But in Tokyo the Tasmanian will face off against American swimming sensation, five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky. Although the pair have been drawn apart in the heats, their anticipated meeting in the final on Monday is expected to be the encounter of the meet.