‘I panicked’: O’Callaghan pips McKeon in blockbuster final ahead of world championships

‘I panicked’: O’Callaghan pips McKeon in blockbuster final ahead of world championships

June 17, 2023

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Mollie O’Callaghan swam a personal best and defeated reigning Olympic champion Emma McKeon in a blockbuster women’s 100m freestyle final on Saturday night at the Australian swimming trials but walked away from the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre wanting more.

After an early ‘panic’ on the starting blocks, O’Callaghan turned in third place at the turn (25.50s) before roaring home and hitting the wall in 52.48s, narrowly ahead of McKeon (52.52s) and Shayna Jack (52.64s).

Mollie O’Callaghan has been in sensational form at the Australian swimming trials in Melbourne this week. Credit: Getty

With only two spots up for grabs, Jack was the unlucky one but will travel with the Dolphins as a relay swimmer.

There was confusion after the race when O’Callaghan’s time didn’t appear on the big screen. She thought she might have been disqualified but was relieved to see her name at the top.

O’Callaghan’s stocks once again rose, a year out from the Paris Olympics, as she recorded a personal best by 0.01 seconds. It was also the fastest time in the world this year and will give her confidence before the world championships in Fukuoka, starting on July 23.

The 19-year-old always has a smile on her face but was left feeling somewhat unfulfilled by her race.

It’s an interesting insight into a prodigious young swimmer with high expectations.

Emma McKeon congratulates Mollie O’Callaghan. Credit: Getty

To say it’s a changing of the guard would be a little premature but if O’Callaghan can knock off McKeon at the world championships, it would be a serious statement ahead of Paris.

O’Callaghan also won the 100m freestyle event at the Commonwealth Games last year.

“I was extremely nervous tonight,” O’Callaghan said. “I wanted to PB [personal best]. Quite a bit disappointed that I didn’t go [much] faster. It’s still a PB.

“I panicked at the start because my block wasn’t clicked in right. I heard a big [bang] on my blocks. I touched the wall and thought I might have been disqualified. It was a bit confusing but it was a relief when it was fixed up.”

McKeon was the fastest qualifier heading into the final, having posted a heat time of 52.86s.

She was well off her personal best and Australian record of 51.96s but thrilled with her result.

“It’s actually the fastest time I’ve done since Tokyo,” McKeon said. “I’m really happy with that. Bohly [coach Michael Bohl] and I have always said since Tokyo we’ve got our eyes set on Paris. I feel like everything is on track.

“Definitely still want to do well at worlds.”

Minutes later, Zac Stubblety-Cook won his favoured 200m breaststroke event but fell short of breaking his own world record.

Zac Stubblety-Cook won his 200m breaststroke final on Saturday night. Credit: Getty

The Olympic, Commonwealth Games and world champion finished five seconds clear of his rivals in two minutes, 07.86s. His world record is 2:05.95s.

“I would have liked to go a little quicker,” Stubblety-Cook said. “Stepping up and pushing yourself is a challenge in itself.”

Sam Short took out the men’s 1500m freestyle final in a personal best time of 14:46.67s.

Simpson goes head-to-head with Chalmers and Temple

On the final day of competition on Sunday, the men’s 100m butterfly is the event to keep an eye on.

When Cody Simpson told those close to him in mid-2020 he was going to swap his guitar for the black line of a swimming pool, he only had eyes for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

All the doubters who thought Simpson wouldn’t have enough time to be any good were proved wrong when the pop star, who’d spent his younger years dreaming of becoming an Olympian, made Australia’s Commonwealth Games team last year.

Simpson thought he’d qualified for the world championships last year in Budapest. That was until Kyle Chalmers, who finished ahead of Simpson, backflipped and decided he actually wanted to swim the 100m butterfly, which is Simpson’s best event.

On Sunday, Simpson gets his chance to break into the Dolphins team for next month’s world championships in Fukuoka. It might be a fraction too soon, but it’ll be a good gauge of where he’s at.

The men’s 100m butterfly shapes as a fascinating race, pitting Simpson against Chalmers and Matt Temple, Australia’s undisputed male butterfly king.

Last year, Simpson came third at the Australian trials. With Australia able to send three swimmers in each event to the Commonwealth Games, it was a sigh of relief for Simpson.

Cody Simpson lines up for the 50m butterfly final on Wednesday.Credit: Getty

Chalmers ended up pulling out of the 100m butterfly at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as Simpson finished fifth overall in a time of 52.06s.

This week, only two spots are up for grabs.

Temple is the hot favourite, given he holds the Australian record (50.45s), while Chalmers (51.67s) has a faster personal best than Simpson (51.78s). Shaun Champion, David Morgan and Ben Armbruster will also be primed and ready to go.

After Simpson competed at the Australian Swimming Championships on Gold Coast in April, some media reports suggested his Olympic dream was done.

Cody Simpson and Emma McKeon at last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.Credit: Getty

In the 100m butterfly final, Simpson touched the wall in eighth place in 53.48s. His time was 1.7 seconds outside his personal best that he clocked in December. Few people knew Simpson had been battling illness, and all signs suggest he’s ready to fire when it matters most on the final night of competition at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre.

There is also the added fuel that Simpson is now dating Emma McKeon, who was once with Chalmers.

“He’s got to give it a shot and see what happens. He’s in the mix,” said Simpson’s coach, Michael Bohl. “He’s had big drops and we see what he’s capable of.

“Matt Temple is a stratosphere ahead of everyone else. Cody has to be top two. Everyone knows the rules. There’s no pressure on him here. He’s just got to get up and try and swim a personal best. He was flat as for that meet [on the Gold Coast] but his eyes are on this one.”

Even if Simpson doesn’t make the Australian team, it won’t affect his primary objective of becoming an Olympian next year. Australia’s Olympic trials take place next year from June 10 to 15.

It would go close to being the story of the Games if Simpson could transition from teenage heartthrob to a swimmer on the biggest stage of all.

“Next year is the focus, but he’s just got to try and improve,” Bohl said. “That’s the name of the game. He’s not way out of it. He’s not a definite [selection]. He’s got work to do.”

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