Zac Stubblety-Cook’s victory in the 200 meter breaststroke is a bolt from nowhere for Australian swimming
More recently, it was the COVID crisis that left him hanging dry. One of the worst days of Stubblety-Cook’s life was when the Australian government announced, before the official postponement of the 2020 Olympics, that it would not send a team to Tokyo.
“To put it in a word, it was heartbreaking,” he said. “So, postponing the Olympics and not knowing if this was going to happen, it was devastating. To be honest, it was pretty depressing.
“It makes a lot of people think, ‘Why am I doing this sport?’ For me, it was more about, why do I love swimming? It’s about this, but it’s about having fun and doing the best I can. “
Watching Stubblety-Cook swim 200m breaststroke is a study in patience and rhythm. He’s a true stayer, not a sprinter, who goes to sleep on the way out and then brings you home with an accelerated cadence and a finishing surge.
Stubblety-Cook says it takes patience for anyone to swim for two and a half hours, twice a day. But not everyone swims 200 m breaststroke this way.
In the lane next to him, Arno Kamminga shot off at crazy and fearless speed and turned at the 100-meter mark two full seconds below the world-record pace. For Stubblety-Cook, it wasn’t easy to see the Dutchman’s orange cap swinging so far in front of him, but he understood that he needed to stay calm and bide his time.
“I knew there would be some people in favor from the beginning,” he said.
“In that race it was about trusting myself to come back. I definitely had to trust myself, trust my coach and everything we’ve done. “
Stubblety-Cook also knew that somewhere behind him, in lane one, Russia’s world champion and world record holder Anton Chupkov was lurking.
Australia’s head coach Rohan Taylor said that of all the world-class swimmers on the field, only Chupkov had the closing speed to match Stubblety-Cook.
Stubblety-Cook turned sixth after 50 meters, fourth after 100 meters, third after 150 meters and then turned on speed. His last lap was the fastest of all in the race.
Chupkov could not go with him and a tired Kamminga could do nothing to stop him when the unexpected Australian ran over the Dutchman’s right shoulder and crashed into the wall.
He is the first Australian to win the event at an Olympic Games since Ian O’Brien at the 1964 Tokyo Games. His victory time of two minutes and 6.38 seconds was slightly off the time he recorded in testing and the third fastest ever.
Stubblety-Cook said you can only be the underdog once. You do it when you swim like this at the Olympics.
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