World Championships, Day One Finals: Kyle Chalmers Supplies Anchor Heroics For Aussies In 400 Freestyle Relay

Kyle Chalmers happy place Courtesy Swimming NSW

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World Championships, Day One Finals: Kyle Chalmers Supplies Anchor Heroics For Aussies In 400 Freestyle Relay

There’s a reason relays often save their top guy for the anchor leg, and Kyle Chalmers showed why that tactic can be a game-changer on Sunday night at the World Championships in Fukuoka.

Through the first three legs of the 400-meter freestyle relay, Australia bounced between third and fifth place in a tightly packed field that was headed by Italy. But with the Aussies never out of striking distance, Chalmers was perfectly positioned when it was time to enter the water at Marine Messe Hall. And as all go-to athletes do, Chalmers flourished in a pressurized situation to cap a sensational night for his homeland.

Popping a split of 46.56, which was easily the fastest in the field, Chalmers lifted Australia to the gold medal. The Dolphins touched in 3:10.16, just ahead of the 3:10.49 of Italy. The United States picked up the bronze medal in 3:10.81. Chalmers was joined by teammates Jack Cartwright, Flynn Southam and Kai Taylor.

Unlike the women’s 400 freestyle relay an event earlier, where the Aussies ran away from the field, the men’s race was a blanket affair. While Italy was in front from the start, the U.S., China, Brazil and Canada were all in medal contention at various points, and narrowly separated.

Cartwright opened for the Aussies in 47.84 and balanced splits of 47.85 and 47.91 from Southam and Taylor were strong enough to give Chalmers all he wanted – a chance. The 2016 Olympic champion in the 100 freestyle, Chalmers caught Italian Thomas Ceccon on the final leg, despite Ceccon splitting a superb 47.03. It’s just that Chalmers was special, and as a face of Australian swimming, he did what was expected.

Chalmers’ anchor capped a night that saw Australia win four of the five finals, with world records produced by Ariarne Titmus in the 400 freestyle and by the women’s 400 freestyle relay. To start the night, Sam Short won the 400 freestyle by edging Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui at the wall.

“Someone like Sam Short has been swimming so well in training,” Chalmers said. “We have been there and listened to him talk it up and talk the big game…and for him to deliver tonight was that spine tingling moment, and then Ariarne breaking the world record and the girls break a world record (in the relay). I don’t think Australia could ask for a better night and I said to the boys in the medal ceremony room, I have been on a World Championships team when we have struggled to win four medals for the whole competition and tonight we win four gold medals on the first night….!”

For Italy, Ceccon followed the efforts of Alessandro Miressi (47.54), Manuel Frigo (47.79) and Lorenzo Zazzeri (48.13). Meanwhile, the United States earned a podium spot behind the foursome of Ryan Held (48.16), Jack Alexy (47.56), Chris Guiliano (47.77) and Matt King (47.32). It was King’s anchor which helped Team USA fend off China for third.

As much as Australia earned the title, a stunning development in the morning shifted the dynamics of the race.

Great Britain entered the meet as the favorite for gold, its roster featuring a combination of elite power and depth. All the Brits needed to do was safely negotiate the preliminary heats, a challenge it could not handle. After touching the wall in what would have been a top-seeded time of 3:10.47, the scoreboard inside Marine Messe Hall indicated a disqualification for the British squad.

Following Lewis Burras’ opening split of 48.61, Matt Richards unleashed the only sub-47 split of the morning, going 46.89. However, Jacob Whittle left the blocks .04 early on his relay exchange with Richards, a miscalculation that denied the Brits the chance to race for the crown at night. Whittle turned in a split of 47.37 for his leg and Duncan Scott followed in 47.60.

The plan was for Tom Dean to join the British relay in the final, a move that would have strengthened the country’s push for a first world championship in the event. More, Great Britain may have been in position to challenge the 3:09 barrier, a mark that has only been cracked on three occasions.

The fact is, Great Britain was out, and Australia came through.

“It’s good getting on top of the podium just like the girls do every year,” Cartwright said. “Racing hard, especially with these boys swimming after me, I had to put in a good time with the boys following me. We just had to believe in each other and believe in yourself.”


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