Aussies cheated by FINA ‘greed’
You could tell by the way Cate Campbell, Emma McKeon, Matthew Wilson and Mitchell Larkin spoke about last night's mixed medley gold medal it was one for the history books.
Nothing will top the men's 4x100m freestyle relay at the Sydney Olympics, as Michael Klim, Ian Thorpe and Co. defied Team USA's prediction they'd smash us like guitars - but this wasn't far off.
It began with Larkin leading off with the backstroke leg just 15 minutes after completing an individual 200m medley semi-final. A brutal task he ranked up there with the hardest of his career. "I don't want to admit it but it was," he said.
"But seeing these guys in the marshalling room really got me up, you're wearing the green and gold and standing next to the Yanks - it's pretty inspiring."
Larkin could only clock 53.47 seconds in the lead-off leg - a whopping 0.70 of a second behind the time that had earned him 100m backstroke bronze earlier in the meet - but the tone was set.
Breaststroker Wilson went next, producing what Larkin described as a "fantastic split", before handing over to McKeon, who had an even more arduous lead-in to the race.
McKeon began the eight-day meet at Gwangju confidently enough by chiming into Australia's 4x100m freestyle victory and collecting 100m butterfly bronze. The victories kept her on track to become the first person to win eight medals at a world titles, eclipsing American great Michael Phelps who nabbed a bag of seven twice.
Then illness struck.
McKeon pulled out of Tuesday's 200m freestyle amid reports a health warning at the world titles' athletes village had been issued after a number of diarrhoea cases were reported.
Somehow she found the strength to bounce back 24 hours later and keep up with the likes of world champion Caeleb Dressel of the US and British gun James Guy in the butterfly leg.
"On the turn I knew that the boys would be coming at me so I kind of just shut my eyes as soon as I turned because I didn't want to see where they were and just swam as hard as I could home," she said.
Despite those heroics, Australia still trailed the Americans when freestyle anchor Cate Campbell entered the water.
Unlike Thorpe - who actually began with a lead in that famous race in Sydney - Campbell had to make up an entire body length.
And not against any patsy either. She was tasked with chasing down US star Simone Manuel - the swimmer who had famously taken gold in the women's 100m freestyle at the Rio Olympics when Campbell entered the race a red-hot favourite but finished a shattering sixth.
But as she's proven time and time again during a career that's seen her win two Olympic and two world championship relay gold medals, Campbell is a different beast when she's racing for her teammates.
Ready to unleash after three days of inaction following victory in the women's 4x100m freestyle relay earlier in the meet - and inspired by Larkin and McKeon's bravery - the 27-year-old charged home to win by a fingertip.
"I feel like a bear who has been in hibernation. I was starting to get a little bit restless in the apartment," Campbell said. "I was like 'come on let me out, let's start racing again' …
"Watching Mitch prepare after having to back up from the 200m IM, watching him mentally get himself in a place where he could give his absolute all for me was incredibly inspiring … (and) for Emma to be mixing it with the boys (was special). I could see her holding her own."
Which brings us to the only sour note of what was a historic occasion.
Swimming Australia's failure to find a broadcast partner for the meet meant only those who knew to download the iSwim ap - or forked out $40 to watch it on FINA TV - were able to stream the race.
Like fans in the UK - where the BBC also baulked at what's been reported as an exorbitant half a million dollar request by FINA for the rights - we were left in the dark.
"Disappointing but not surprising from FINA," Aussie swim star Maddie Groves tweeted. "Our Aussies have worked relentlessly ... Why don't FINA want to showcase that? $$$. Unbelievable greed."
What should have been a widely-witnessed new chapter in Australia's glittering swimming history was barely-glimpsed.
Campbell - whose public standing has undoubtedly been impacted by her failure to go better than bronze in an individual event at Olympic level - missed out on what could have been an enormous moment of redemption.
Even attempts to find a replay of the race online on Thursday morning were fruitless. American sites like NBC Sports had provided the entire race to their audience but the videos were geo-blocked.
So the race became lost as Chinese villain Sun Yang again stole the headlines.
In a week where accusations of cheating have dominated the pooldeck, our swimmers were well and truly robbed.