Commonwealth Games Notes: Cate Campbell Better than Ever?

Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia Ltd.

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By David Rieder.

Cate Campbell made her international racing debut for Australia in the summer of 2007 when she was just 14 years old. At 15, she swam at her first Olympics and won her first two medals. In short, she’s been around a long time—and this week at the Commonwealth Games, she is swimming as fast as she ever has.

Now 25, Campbell opened her week anchoring Australia’s 4×100 free relay to a new world record, putting in an amazing 51.00 split. Yes, that’s the fastest in history—that was obvious right away—but by how much? The previous best split ever belonged to Cate’s younger sister Bronte, who split 51.77 at the 2015 World Championships.

Not counting relay leadoffs (like Sarah Sjostrom’s 51.71 from last year’s World Champs), Campbell split three-quarters of a second faster than anyone else ever had. Her previous personal-best split was a 51.80 from the Olympics in Rio.

As for the 50 free, Campbell put up a time of 23.88 in Friday’s semi-finals, a time only she and four others (Sjostrom, Britta Steffen, Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Therese Alshammar) have ever matched or bettered. Already this season, Campbell has matched her season best with a 23.79 at Australia’s Trials last month.

Over the next four days of racing in Gold Coast, Campbell has the 50 free final as well as all three rounds of the 100 free and 50 fly, plus the medley relay. And you have to think that world records are a possibility—even if those Sjostrom took those sprint free world records to obscene levels last summer in Budapest with her 51.71 in the 100 and 23.67.

Campbell did not compete at that World Championships, but she was in Budapest to support Bronte and other friends and to provide some analysis for Australian television. Hours before the Swede claimed the mark, Campbell explained that watching on as her world record went down would help motivate for her as she returned to full-time training and racing in 2018.

It seems to have worked. The swimmer who showed up to the Commonwealth Games this week is vintage Cate Campbell.

Teenagers Ruck and Titmus Cross Paths

Over the course of their careers, Canada’s Taylor Ruck and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus will not cross paths a whole lot in the racing pool. As you would expect: Ruck focuses on the shorter distance freestyle and backstroke races, and Titmus is a 400-800 freestyler. The only race where the two 17-year-olds cross over is the 200 free.

And as luck would have it, the 200 free came first for both young women on the Commonwealth Games program. Veteran Emma McKeon could not keep pace, and Ruck opened up a lead on the last 50, only for Titmus to track her down over the last 15 meters. But Ruck got to the wall first, 1:54.81 to 1:54.85.

emma-mckeon-taylor-ruck-ariarne-titmus-200-free-2018-commonwealth-games

Emma McKeon, Taylor Ruck & Ariarne Titmus — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia Ltd.

Gold and silver medals are great, obviously, but in a year where the world’s best swimmers will not all compete at the same meet, here’s some perspective on those times: Ruck now ranks seventh all-time in the event, and Titmus moved into a tie for 10th. Remember, teenagers.

Both of their times were quicker than McKeon swam to win Olympic bronze in Rio and faster than McKeon and Katie Ledecky swam to share World Champs silver last summer. What does that mean? Well, for one, Ledecky might have some competition as the best 200 freestyler training at Stanford come the fall, with Ruck on her way there.

If you pay attention much to swimming, you already knew who Ruck and Titmus were, but both have improved at a startling rate this season. Ruck has two more Commonwealth finals coming up Saturday, in the 50 free and 100 back (plus 100 free, 200 back and relays), while Titmus should be considered the gold-medal favorite in the 400 and 800 free.

Ruck and Titmus will share the pool once more this week, as part of their respective countries’ 4×200 free relay. Still, don’t get used to seeing them race together—not much, anyway.

State of Australian Men’s Relays

In two relay events so far at the Commonwealth Games, Australia has won easily in both the women’s 4×100 free and men’s 4×100 free. No surprise there—it would have been a stunner for the Aussies to lose either. As for what’s to come, the women might get a challenge from Canada in the 4×200 free relay, but the medley should be theirs to lose.

As for the men’s relays, Adam Peaty makes England the favorite in the medley, while the England-Scotland split will make it tough for either team to take gold in the 4×200 free—especially with Australia showing its best form in years in the 200 free.

In that individual event Friday, Kyle Chalmers took gold in 1:45.56, and Mack Horton got the silver in 1:45.89. That’s the first time since the last edition of the Commonwealth Games in 2014 that two Aussies have swum under 1:46 at the same international meet. Both finished ahead of Scotland’s best (Duncan Scott) and England’s best (James Guy), so that’s a strong place to start.

Chalmers was absent from last year’s World Championships as he dealt with a heart issue, and in his absence, an Australian team that was inexperienced aside from Horton over-performed to finish fourth in the 4×200 relay. Clyde Lewis, Alexander Graham and Jack Cartwright all split 1:46s on that relay, and two of that trio plus 17-year-old Elijah Winnington will slot into the team this time around.

cartwright-magnussen-mcevoy-chalmers-australia-4x100-free-relay-2018-commonwealth-games

Australia men victorious in the 4×100 free relay — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia Ltd.

So the arrow is pointing up on that relay. As for the 4×100 free relay, the Aussies won that despite relatively sluggish 48-second splits from Chalmers, Cameron McEvoy and James Magnussen. Cartwright, surprisingly, had the fastest split of the relay with his 47.71. But that team had no challengers, enabling them to get away with a final time of 3:12.96.

As for the medley relay, Mitch Larkin posted a solid 53.19 in winning gold in the 100 back, but we’ll reserve judgement on that team until all the 100-meter events are complete—including the 100 free, where Chalmers is the Olympic gold medalist.

When it Rains…

Friday night’s finals in Gold Coast were rainy and windy, and while swimmers knew to expect anything at an outdoor facility, conditions like that are never ideal. Once they are in the pool, anyone should be fine, but staying warm and dry before races becomes a challenge that could throw an athlete off his or her game.

Thankfully, the forecast for the Gold Coast calls for sunny skies for the final four days of swimming competition.

2 Comments

2 comments

  1. Guy Eylon

    More determined than ever!

  2. avatar
    ALEXANDER POP-OFF

    Actually, the previous fastest free relay split by a woman was also Cate— 51.59 at the last Commonwealth Games in 2014. She was anchoring the medley relay.

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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