Australia secured three fantastic medals in the opening swimming finals session of Tokyo 2020 but it was the women who produced a swim for the ages to win their third straight Olympic gold medal in the Women’s 4x100m freestyle relay and break their own world record.
And the fact that it was the most predictable gold the Dolphins will win in Tokyo made it no less sweet.
The Australians not only broke their own world record, they earned a place in history as the first quartet ever to go under 3min.30sec with a collective 3min.29.69sec. The victory was Australia’s first gold of the Games, and followed the fantastic silver and bronze medals by their male teammates earlier in the first swimming finals session of the Games.
For anchor leg swimmer and Flag Bearer Cate Campbell, who was part of the triumphs in London (2012) and Rio (2016), the victory elevated her to the elite company of Australians who have “threepeated” the same event at the Olympics, joining swim legend Dawn Fraser, equestrian rider Andrew Hoy and hockey star Rechelle Hawkes. Only Fraser and Hoy have done it in consecutive Games, but today they were joined by Campbell.
Additionally, she joined Fraser and Americans Jenny Thompson and Dara Torres as the only three-time gold medallists in this event. And for good measure, she also claimed the record as Australia’s oldest individual swimming gold medallist. At 29 years 67 days, she eclipses fellow swimmer Petria Thomas who was 28 years 356 days old when she won the 100m butterfly gold in Athens in 2004.
Cate’s sister Bronte Campbell led off in 53.01 seconds to put Australia right in the hunt, even if Sweden did throw Sarah Sjoestroem into the fray early as lead-off swimmer.
Meg Harris, the 19-year-old baby of the team, took them through to the lead with a 53.09s leg before Emma McKeon took over to unleash a sizzling 51.35sec leg, the fifth fastest relay split in history. When she touched the wall it was all clear water ahead of Campbell and she stayed well ahead of the world record line for a strong er 52.24sec swim.
But this was not just a triumph for the four girls in the final, as Madi Wilson and Mollie O’Callaghan played their part brilliantly in the heats to get Australia into the final. The fact the competition for finals spots demonstrates the phenomenal depth. But the event is the oldest swimming relay on the Olympic program and only four get to swim the final
Her team-mates all have had had their moments in the sun but for teenager Harris, the rising star of a new generation, it was a dream come true, a gold medal on the first morning of Olympic finals in her first Olympics.
“It’s incredible,” she said when asked how it felt to be part of this team. “There is no feeling like it. And swimming with Madi and Mollie last night, it was insane. And to get into the final was even better.”
Spare a thought, too, for the other girls who over the past three Olympics, have done the job for Australia in this relay – Brittany Elmslie (twice), Alicia Coutts, Mel Schlanger, Emily Seebohm, Yolane Kukla and Libby Trickett.
Earlier, McKeon had done what she needed to do in her semi-final of the 100m butterfly, qualifying third-fastest for the final but not expending too much energy before her relay swim.
Brianna Throssell swam well for sixth in the semi behind McKeon. Her 57.59s sets her up nicely for the 200m butterfly at the Games.
A seven-event program means McKeon has to pick her moments to fully extend herself and the 27-year-old veteran showed all of her experience as she came home powerfully over the final 25m to place second in her semi-final in 56.33sec behind France’s Marie Wattel (56.16sec).
China’s Zhang Yufei, with whom McKeon’s dead-heated in the heats, won the other semi-final in 55.89sec to grab pole position for what is shaping as an engrossing final. As ever the dark horse remains Sjoestroem, the world record holder and Olympic champion who is only now working her way back in form after breaking her elbow in February.