Zac Stubblety-Cook Rides 200 Breast Gold Medal to Pacific Rim Swimmer of the Year Award

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Izaac Stubblety-Cook (AUS) celebrates his gold medal during the medals ceremony for the men's 200m breaststroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Zac Stubblety-Cook -- Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Zac Stubblety-Cook Rides 200 Breast Gold Medal to Pacific Rim Swimmer of the Year Award

It has been a steady rise to the top of the pack in the men’s 200 breaststroke for Australia’s Zac Stubblety-Cook. Back in 2017, he was just 18 when he swam at the FINA World Junior Championships and earned a bronze medal in the event. One year later, Stubblety-Cook made the jump to the senior level and snagged a silver medal in the 200 breast at the Pan Pacific Championships. In 2019, he narrowly missed the podium at his first World Championships, ending up fourth in 2:07.36, but his time put him among the world’s elite in the event.

In 2019, Stubblety-Cook was a bit overshadowed by his fellow Australian star in the event. Matt Wilson tied the world record in the 200 breast semifinals at Worlds and then took a silver medal in the final. So Wilson was the Aussie to watch heading into the delayed Olympics in 2021, but Stubblety-Cook quickly took the spotlight for himself.

This year, Stubblety-Cook broke out. At Australia’s Olympic Trials in June, he crushed his best time and swam a 2:06.28 in the 200 meter breast, taking down Wilson’s national record and missing Anton Chupkov’s world record of 2:06.12 by just 16-hundredths. With that race, the 22-year-old Stubblety-Cook guaranteed that he would be in the hunt for Olympic gold.

The other expected contenders were Chupkov and Japan’s Shoma Sato, who swam a 2:06.40 earlier this year, but Sato missed the Olympic final, while Chupkov could not replicate his record-setting form of previous years. That left the door open for Stubblety-Cook. He was the top qualifier into the Olympic final, and while 100 breast silver medalist Arno Kamminga went out hard and took a big lead, the Aussie did not give up.

Stubblety-Cook was sixth after 50 meters, fourth after 100 meters and third with one length to go, but he was still more than a second off the lead. Stubblety-Cook promptly split 32.21 to pull ahead and swim away with the gold medal. His final time was 2:06.38, the third-quickest mark in history.

After that, Stubblety-Cook was done with his only individual event in Tokyo, but he had more business to handle. Despite being much better at the 200 breast than the 100-meter race, he was thrust into duty as Australia’s breaststroker on both the mixed 400 medley relay and the men’s version of the event. Stubblety-Cook responded with a succession of 58-second splits, helping Australia earn a bronze in the mixed relay and finish fifth in the men’s.

For those impressive efforts, Stubblety-Cook earned the nod as the Pacific Rim Male Swimmer of the Year. He edged out China’s Wang Shun, the surprising gold medalist in the men’s 200 IM in Tokyo, while 100 free silver medalist and short course world record-breaker Kyle Chalmers finished third in the voting.

Stubblety-Cook is the first Australian man to win the honor in six years since Mitch Larkin was the winner in 2015. Before that, no Aussie male had won since Grant Hackett in 2005, which ended a run of nine Australian winners in the first 11 years this award was given.