‘Nothing else I could have done’: Chalmers near perfect but Dressel a fraction better

It felt like a heavyweight championship bout instead of a swimming race as Kyle Chalmers came within a fingernail of defending his Olympic 100m freestyle crown

29/07/2021 3:59:00 PM

It felt like a heavyweight championship bout instead of a swimming race as Kyle Chalmers came within a fingernail of defending his Olympic 100m freestyle crown

It felt like a heavyweight championship bout instead of a swimming race as Kyle Chalmers came within a fingernail of defending his Olympic 100m freestyle crown.

Normal text sizeVery large text sizeAdvertisementIn the fastest Olympic 100m freestyle final ever raced, against the quickest man in history outside the super-suit era, fractions of seconds were always going to take on an ocean of importance for Kyle Chalmers.

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To beat American star Caeleb Dressel, a superb technician as well as a lightning-quick freestyler, everything needed to go to plan. He had to get off the blocks fast, get within striking distance by the first wall, nail the perfect turn, then power through the pain and finish with a customary flourish.

Here’s the thing for Chalmers; that all happened. The champion from Rio barely put a foot - or hand, or arm - wrong in the Tokyo final as he let fly in clear water from lane seven. He almost swam through the wall in 47.08, equal to his personal best.Dressel was simply too good, winning his first individual Olympic gold medal to add to his relay gold from Rio and two team golds in Tokyo. His time of 47.02 was the second-fastest ever outside the banned super-suit era and he’s not done yet, with the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly his for the taking. headtopics.com

Chalmers and Dressel are close outside the pool but the two greats combust when they run into each other in competition. There were other contenders on paper in Tokyo, including the fastest qualifier for the final, Kliment Kolesnikov, but by the 75m mark Dressel and Chalmers had left them for dead.

This was more like a Tyson-Holyfield fight instead of a swimming race. Chalmers looked to have him cold but Dressel raised a final, desperate effort to cling on and consign the South Australian to the second tier of the podium. Dressel rained tears under his mask as his anthem was played.

“It does [feel like a prize fight] and I think it’s been talked up as more than a race for a while now,” Chalmers said. “Obviously Caeleb and I have a pretty fierce rivalry. He was there in Rio, so we do enjoy racing against each other and we do bring the best out in each other. It’s almost a relief to get it over with now.

Kyle Chalmers and Caeleb Dressel embrace after the medal ceremony.Credit:Getty“I executed the race to the best of my ability, from my dive, something I’ve really been working hard on, normally I’m already half a second behind Caeleb at the 15m mark. It’s always battling back and fighting the race. But I’m really happy with how I executed, there’s nothing else I could have done better.” headtopics.com

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AdvertisementDressel is a nightmare to race because he is bulletproof. His starts, dives and turns are so good it gives him a head-start at both ends without swimming a single stroke. Chalmers has the higher racing speed in full flight but, as he did in the World Championships in 2019, Dressel was able to hold onto the finest of margins.

Chalmers is a winner and wanted this badly. But given he was in a hospital bed at the start of the year recovering from shoulder surgery, he understood how far he had come and how close he had gone to touching greatness again.He has so many puncture marks from cortisone injections it’s a surprise he didn’t take on water and sink. Dealing with rolling injuries adds to the anxiety of an athlete who already suffers from an occasional crisis of confidence, so to get to the wall with such haste in Tokyo was no small achievement.

Kyle Chalmers with his 100m freestyle silver medal.Credit:AP“It’s been a real rollercoaster five years for me,” Chalmers said. “Obviously after Rio, I felt untouchable, I was the young kid who stood up and won. Then the reality sunk in and it was back to normal. I didn’t swim too well there for a little while.

“This year has been a real challenge for me. I started training so well, swimming really fast. I got back in the pool and probably started too fast and had a shoulder blow out. That was a really bumpy journey for me.“I had 12 cortisones in my left shoulder. Two PRPs [platelet-rich plasma] to fix my sub-scap [subscapularis muscle] and I had surgery as well. They took my bursa out and bit of my labrum out. Now it’s at a point where it’s manageable. headtopics.com

“My AC joint is still no good in my left shoulder so I swim through a lot of pain. Dealing with that has been the biggest challenge for me this year, just getting to the pool, my shoulder might be sore and I can’t get in the water.”Chalmers needed more cortisone treatment after the Olympic trials in June and admitted he thought, at times, he would end up watching Dressel’s coronation on TV instead of going stroke-for-stroke in the Tokyo pool.

“I had to get cortisone after trials, I had to have two in my left and one in my right,” he said. “It feels like two steps forward, one step back. There were plenty of moments where I thought it wasn’t possible for me to be here at the Olympic Games, let alone in the final, let alone doing my best time again.

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Loading“I have to be really grateful and content with that. One thing I have really struggled with is that anxiety that comes with injury, just not knowing if you are going as well as you would have hoped. It’s challenging.”Chalmers needs a break after the Games. So do his shoulders. But he has already signalled he wants his title back in Paris in what would be a third Olympic final featuring two kingpins of the pool.

In the meantime, with gold in Rio and silver in Tokyo, his status as one of the genuine greats of the Australian pool has been assured. Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald »

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