Australian rivals launch 200m thriller as Emma McKeon continues Games history | sport


When Ariarne Titmus looked across her hall, she didn’t just see her sparring partner Mollie O’Callaghan. She saw herself. “She’s young. She’s feisty. She’s hungry,” Titmus said of O’Callaghan. “She’s what I was – and I still am.”

The Aussies turned Friday night’s women’s 200 freestyle final at the Commonwealth Games into a classic. Titmus, the Olympic champion, was under the world record on the final turn. Then she saw a smoking 18-year-old O’Callaghan.

Titmus expected it. So she’d turned her head the other way, breathing just so she could look at O’Callaghan. “I was breathing the other way in round three,” Titmus said. “I thought that was when I could put my foot down and make a move. Then I saw her around the bend. And I thought “she’s here”.

Titmus called on his renowned fighting spirit to hold off the precocious teenager by the proverbial fingernail, winning by just 0.12 seconds. Titmus and O’Callaghan were under the previous Commonwealth Games record by almost a second.

“I knew coming in, she would be there,” Titmus said of the emerging force known as Mollie O. “She’s gotten better every day. It’s exciting for her to keep me on my toes. toes.

O’Callaghan started swimming at the age of four and entered her first competition three years later. As the youngest member of the Tokyo Olympics team, the Queensland wonderkid swam an incredible swim in the heats of the 4x100m freestyle relay in Tokyo to claim a gold medal as part of Team Australia. In June, with Titmus at home, she became the 100m freestyle champion at the World Swimming Championships in Budapest, becoming the youngest winner of the event in 31 years.

Both Titmus and O’Callaghan are coached by Dean Boxall. “It’s weird because he gives us both race plans to win, but he’s just the one who gets it at the end of the day,” O’Callaghan said. “Arnie has a lot of 200m racing experience and it’s amazing how close I’ve come. I’m quite happy with that.

Meanwhile, Emma McKeon is on the cusp of Commonwealth Games history, but the Olympic champion insists she ‘didn’t do the math’ as ​​a 10th and 11th World Cup medal or await him in Birmingham.

McKeon, now a regular on the front and back pages of newspapers thanks to her exploits in the pool and her blossoming romance with Australian swimmer Cody Simpson, claimed a ninth Games title on the program’s first night at the Sandwell Aquatic Center Friday, anchoring the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay to gold.

Two other gold medals – the 100m butterfly and the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay – are up for grabs on Saturday. A win there would push McKeon’s level and then overtake champions Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill and Leisel Jones, who hold on to Australia’s record 10 Commonwealth Games titles.

A nine-event schedule in his first international encounter since the Tokyo Games last year means McKeon could leave Birmingham well clear of the legendary trio.

“No, I didn’t do the math,” she told reporters. “I don’t read the short stories you write; even in Tokyo (where she won four gold and three bronze, a Games high), it wasn’t something I wanted to do.

“Here it’s just a stepping stone and I don’t watch the medal count,” insisted McKeon. “Incredible swimmers have done this in the past and they are the ones who have inspired us all. I don’t intend to break anything, I just do my best and see what I’m capable of.

McKeon took time off after Tokyo, which she said was needed for a mental reset ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the 2024 Paris Olympics. According to longtime coach Michael Bohl, after winning four medals gold and three bronze in Tokyo to become Australia’s most decorated Olympian, McKeon considered retiring rather than embarking on another four-year Olympic cycle.

“She spent three months out of the water, we just didn’t know what she was going to do,” Bohl told reporters. “When you get to 28, there are other things to do. She has now completed her studies, she studied public health, so she had to decide if she would choose this path of work or if she still had competitive ambitions in the pool.

“When you have such a good encounter, it’s hard to back down. It’s not physical, it’s mental. You need to be in the right frame of mind to face it again. She thought about the pros and cons, and in the end she felt like she got even better,” Bohl said.

Now, despite a busy schedule that also includes 50m freestyle heats and semifinals on Saturday, McKeon says his goal is to enjoy the return to the pool.

“I haven’t run for a long time, it’s coming back into the rhythm and I consider it the first step towards Paris,” she said. “It’s good to be back, to feel those nerves again that I haven’t felt in a long time.

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