The way Kyle Chalmers surges past the field in the finishing stages of races, it’s no real surprise that he relishes the moment when legs start to fail and arms start to stiffen. The sting, the wall, whatever you call it, it is the moment that Chalmers knows that his training will get him home.On Day 5 in Rio, Chalmers became the first Australian man since 1968 to claim the blue riband 100m Freestyle. At 18 years old he was also the youngest. After turning seventh at the 50 metre mark it appeared that even his trademark strong finish wouldn’t be enough, so much so that the commentators weren’t even mentioning him as the swimmers neared the wall.
As Chalmers went about his business, spectacularly but unnoticed in lane five, all eyes were focused on pre-race favourite Cam McEvoy and defending champion Nathan Adrian. McEvoy came to Rio, the latest in a line of Australian favourites in this event. James Magnusson in London, Eamon Sullivan in Beijing and even the great Ian Thorpe in Athens, unable to carry the weight of expectation that comes with favouritism to victory.
McEvoy was strong off the blocks but it was Santo Condorelli of Canada who led at the halfway mark from Adrian. In the second fifty the defending champ quickly passed the Canadian and set sail for home and back to back gold. With 15 metres to go Chalmers had moved up alongside Adrian and was confident he had the fuel in the tank to surge to the line.
“When I got to the last 15m and started burning up, I knew that I’d done so much training and could push myself.” He said afterwards. “I glided a little bit into the wall but I didn’t have any more to give.”
He didn’t need anymore, he had timed his swim to perfection and had passed Adrian for the gold. The American had to settle for bronze after having Belgian Pieter Timmers also swim past him in the finish.
In hindsight the young South Australian’s victory should not have caught the commentators by surprise. Although he had qualified for Olympics behind McEvoy, everything he had done in Rio had shown him to be a real Gold Medal threat. His form had been nothing short of electric, winning both his heat and semi-final and qualifying second fastest for the final.From the moment, as a 13 year old, Chalmers decided to add swimming to the burgeoning list of sports he competed in, he has been on the pathway to greatness. But despite his doubtless potential, junior records owned by such luminaries as Ian Thorpe fell in his wake, even as late as last year Chalmers wasn’t sure whether Australian Football or Swimming would be his sport of choice.
His father Brett was a ruckman for both Adelaide and Port Adelaide in the AFL and following in his footsteps was always something that appealed to Kyle. Despite urgings from Australia’s Head Swimming Coach to focus all his attention on swimming, Chalmers, a talented footballer attempted to combine commitments to both sports.
Then as is always the case, the fork in the road arrived. Five weeks out from last year’s World Championships, Chalmers suffered both a broken wrist and torn ankle ligaments playing football for his school. “From that moment on, I decided football wasn’t something I could do any more.” He said.
He recovered in time to compete at the World Championships where he got a taste of senior world competition with swims in the 4 x 100m Freestyle and 4 x 100m Medley Relays. A week later he was in Singapore competing at the Junior World Championships where he helped himself to seven medals including three gold.
Now a full time swimmer, he still keeps a football close to hand. He has said that having the ball in his hands before his events has a calming effect on him. His father Brett also speculated that he thinks that Kyle might still have some time in footy after he hangs up his speedos “Deep down, after his swimming is over, I reckon he’ll have a kick somewhere. Whether that’s just grade footy or wherever, I reckon he’ll kick a footy.”
After choosing the pool, there probably isn’t a greater prize to receive as a reward than the 100m Freestyle crown. Australia’s Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren probably describing the prize best “I think it’s very special [100m Freestyle Gold Medal]. In the Netherlands we call it the ‘kings’ event because of what it is. I think you see the same in athletics. It’s a very prestigious event.”
Beaten favorite in the event Cam McEvoy maybe summing up the countries mood “I guess the rest of Australia can get excited over an Olympic champion at 18. I’ve been rooming with him the whole Games….he’s got everything going for him.”McEvoy opinioned “he’s a bloody great swimmer.”
Yes he is Cam, yes he is.
Our 2016 Olympic Men’s 100m Freestyle Champion – Kyle Chalmers!!