Mollie O’Callaghan has made it a hat-trick of golds while leading the mixed 4x100m relay quartet to Australia’s first global landmark at this year’s world swimming championships.
And Kaylee McKeown has underlined her standing as one of Australia’s marquee swimmers with her first world championship triumph in the 200m backstroke in Budapest on a penultimate milestone day for the Dolphins.
Queenslander Kiah Melverton also got into the act, grabbing silver behind the ever-astonishing Katie Ledecky, who took her fifth consecutive 800m freestyle crown with another landslide win on Friday.
Yet even the incredible American couldn’t top the day’s performance from the Dolphins’ quartet of super-charged freestylers – Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madi Wilson, and O’Callaghan, as they clocked a new world record of 3 minutes 19.38 seconds in the day’s final event.
That shaved two-hundredths of a second off the record set by the United States at the last worlds in Gwangju, South Korea, in July 2019 as they blew away Canada (3:20.61) and the US (3:21.09).
“It’s insane,” declared the Rio Olympics 100m freestyle champ Chalmers. “You have the world champion (O’Callaghan, 52.03sec), a girl who would probably have won silver if she’d been in the race (Wilson, 52.25), Jack (Cartwright, 48.12) coming back from shoulder surgery to swim an amazing first split … I think we were always going to be hard to beat.”
They were especially hard to beat thanks to Chalmers’ astonishing second leg, which clocked at 46.98.
“I’m extremely happy, so proud of this team; it’s just an amazing result,” said O’Callaghan, who now boasts five medals from the championships, including three golds.
Pride of place had earlier gone to triple Olympic champion McKeown, who had previously won five world silvers, including two already this week in Budapest. However, she only broke her golden duck with a quite nail-biting triumph.
She just edged to victory with one final push for the wall, prevailing in 2:05.08, with American Phoebe Bacon just a fingernail behind in 2:05.12.
“To come away with a gold medal is pretty spectacular; I wasn’t expecting to be here at the beginning of the year, so to come out with two individual podium swims is amazing,” said McKeown, who also won silver in the 200m individual medley.
“I was nervous coming in tonight off the back of last year, but it’s an awesome feeling.”
It was also a night of high emotion for McKeown, who dedicated her medal to her late father.
“You’ll often see me before my warm-up; I’ll sit on the pool’s edge and have a moment for myself. I believe in my little way that he is there every step of the way, so that’s my thank you,” she said.
The 20-year-old had bypassed her best event, the 100m backstroke, at which she holds the world record and is Olympic champion, to tackle the medley, a decision which had raised a few eyebrows.
But she was determined not to miss out on her other Olympic-winning discipline and timed her to push for victory with split-second precision.
Bacon, the fastest qualifier, risked opening up a 0.64sec lead by halfway before McKeown gradually hauled her back on the third length and then began to forge past in the final 10 meters.
Nobody had any chance against Ledecky in the 800m as she became the first athlete to win one discipline five times in a row and landed a 22nd world medal.
She won by more than 10 seconds in 8:08.04, but Melverton (8:18.77) swam the race of her life for the silver, her first individual global medal in the 50m pool.