Aussie breaststroke boys pushing each other to the limit…”There’s gold in the air….you can smell it..”

HANDS UP FOR GOLD: Matt Wilson shows the style that makes him one of the fastest 200m breaststrokers in the world. Photo Courtesy Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

Australia’s 200m breaststrokers Matt Wilson and Zac Stubblety-Cook are searching for gold in Tokyo this year in what is developing into one of the real showdowns of the 2020 Olympic men’s swimming program.

Many keen judges believe the 200m breaststroke could well come down to host country Japan v Australia, with Russian world champion and world record holder Anton Chupkov (2:06.12) sure to throw a spanner in the works.

In the 25 times the 200m breaststroke has been contested since the London Games of 1908 – Japan has won the event six times with the two legends of Japanese swimming, Kosuke Kitajima (2004, 2008) and Yoshiyuki Tsuruta (1928, 1932) the only swimmers to win back-to-back Olympic gold.

The Aussies have won gold twice to John Davies (1952) – who was the last of the butterfly-breaststrokers – and Ian O’Brien (1964) – both from NSW – as is Wilson.

The Australian boys are locked in a dog-eat-dog National Training Camp on the Sunshine Coast this week and this morning the three big breaststroke guns, Rio Olympian and 100m specialist Jake Packard went hammer and tongs with young guns Wilson and Stubblety-Cook.

Camp head coach and Packard’s personal coach at the University of Sunshine Coast, Chris Mooney has been urging and motivating the boys to get the absolute best out of them.

“Chris has been saying all week that he’s got an Olympic gold medallist in his group,” said Wilson after one of the toughest sessions of the season so far.

“But he just doesn’t know who it is!

“We would like to believe that and it was a really tough session.

“We were all hurting by the end of it; there was a lot of lactic acid in the muscles that’s for sure…we all pushed it to the max and that’s what we want to see and that’s what makes Olympic Gold medallists.”

Wilson finished 2019 having equaled the world record (2:06.67) in the World Championships semi-final only to see his good friend Chupkov break it and win the gold with Stubblety-Cook a close up fourth.

Stubblety-Cook (2:07.28) has since lifted his ranking, setting a new personal best and Queensland record at the December Queensland Championships.

There is a big difference between the Matt Wilson of 2016, who missed Rio and Matt Wilson of 2020.

“Four years does make a big difference; In 2016 I was just trying to make the team; in 2020 I want to be on the podium, if not the gold, that would be nice and I know I’ve still got a long way to go until then.

“But after the World Championships I got a lot of confidence; I dropped almost two seconds from my 2018 time; there was gold in the (Mixed) Medley Relay also.

“So I not only got confidence in the 200m but my 100m as well and having the 100m really helps my 200m a lot.

“I was out quite fast in my 200 at the World Championships….faster than the rest of the field and I think that’s what I’ll do going into the Olympics and going into Trials as well.

“I don’t want to rush the first 100m; I will be relaxed and I probably will be going out faster than most of the field; that’s how I swim it and that’s how I’m comfortable swimming it.

“Zac is a back end dominant swimmer, so it should make for a good race.”

Wilson said he also wanted “in” for the new Olympic Relay, the Mixed Medley which he won in Gwangju along with Mitch Larkin, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell.

“It’s an exciting race; we were behind, we were in front we were behind again before Cate (Campbell) got Simone (Manuel) from the US on the wall and it was so brilliant to watch and to be part of,” said Wilson.

“I want to be part of it again this year…we’ve still got stiff competition for spots on that relay; both Jake and Zac and I are 59sec 100m breaststrokers as well; I don’t think we’ve ever had three people under the minute at the same time.

“So there is a lot of depth and it’s all about learning from each other as well.

“Zac and his aerobic swimming and Jake with his pace stuff I’ll take that back to my home program and use that to the best of my ability…and we’ll all push each other to fast times.”

And maybe Olympic gold.

FOOTNOTE: Wilson was also asked about Chupkov, saying: “I have known Anton since 2015 at the World Junior Championships (in Singapore) and we always catch up.

And on the possibility Russia could be banned?

“We will have to wait for WADA and if he’s clean I have no problem racing Anton,” said Wilson.

”I have no problem racing any Russian swimmer who is clean; it’s not going to affect me on the day of racing….it won’t be an issue for me.”