O’Callaghan wins epic 100m freestyle at Olympic trials

Steve Larkin |

Ariarne Titmus has said she will switch off her social media during the Olympics to focus on racing.
Ariarne Titmus has said she will switch off her social media during the Olympics to focus on racing.

Mollie O’Callaghan learnt how to clean up a mess of nerves.

Shayna Jack rose from the depth of despair.

And Bronte Campbell completed the extraordinary comeback her esteemed sister Cate couldn’t.

The trio of tales emerged in less than a minute in a Friday night thriller of a women’s 100m freestyle final at Australia’s Olympic swimming trials in Brisbane.

O’Callaghan, with a stunning last-lap surge after turning halfway in fifth, triumphed in 52.33 seconds.

Jack touched next in 52.72 seconds, ending her doping-tainted nightmare.

Meg Harris (52.97) was third, followed by Bronte Campbell (53.10) who, after spending a year out of the pool because of chronic back pain, will swim at her fourth Olympics as part of Australia’s 4x100m freestyle relay squad.

Emma McKeon, the reigning Olympic champion in the 100m splash and dash, was sixth in 53.33.

Bronte Campbell’s decorated sister Cate missed the final by one-hundredth of a second and her quest to swim at a fifth Olympics appears doomed.

Cate has one more event at the trials, the 50m freestyle on Saturday, but the 32-year-old is a longshot to eclipse O’Callaghan, Jack and the shortest sprint’s defending Olympic champ McKeon.

The 20-year-old O’Callaghan was a jumble of nerves before her 200m freestyle final on Wednesday night. Burdened by the weight of being the world record holder, her lead-up was marked by a sleepless night and tears.

Ariarne Titmus then took her world record – and took the pressure off O’Callaghan for the 100 free.

“I’m learning so much about myself and nerves,” O’Callaghan said.

“I’m learning that I can swim regardless of being up at night, crying before the race or throughout the day, just being so tense and so wound up.”

Zac Stubblety-Cook.
Zac Stubblety-Cook will defend his Olympic 200m breaststroke title after winning in Brisbane. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)

Jack broke down in tears after claiming a coveted individual swim at a debut Olympics. She watched the Tokyo Games of 2021 having just completed a two-year doping ban.

She always maintained innocence and the Court of Arbitration for Sport found she didn’t knowingly ingest the banned substance ligandrol.

“It’s just using every bit of motivation from anybody who ever doubted me,” Jack said.

“And knowing that I reached a point of absolute despair and not even knowing if I wanted to return to the sport.

“It’s just pride for myself and pride that I get to prove to everybody that I deserve to be here and this is what I was born for.”

Meanwhile, Olympic champion Zac Stubblety-Cook hopes his two-year search for two missing seconds is completed in Paris.

Stubblety-Cook secured a defence of his Olympic crown with victory in the 200m breaststroke in two minutes 07.40 seconds – almost two seconds outside of his personal best set in May 2022.

“I’m just still looking for my best race,” Stubblety-Cook said.

“It has been two years so I’d like to have my best race in Paris.”

Brad Woodward won the men’s 200m backstroke – stalwart Mitch Larkin was fifth, ending his bid to swim at a fourth Olympics.

Ella Ramsay headed the women’s 200m breaststroke and Matt Galea saluted in a men’s 1500m freestyle final missing last year’s world championship bronze medallist Sam Short, who withdrew because of illness.