By Sharon Robb
MELBOURNE, Australia, December 15, 2022—South African Chad le Clos is back on top after winning his 11th title and first in four years at the 16th FINA Short Course World Championships Thursday at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatics Centre.
Le Clos, 30, who frequently trains in South Florida, broke into tears after touching the wall first in the 200-meter butterfly in a national record 1:48.27 ahead of Japan’s Daiya Seto (1:49.22) and Switzerland’s Noe Ponti (1:49.42). The 2012 Olympic gold medalist came from behind to win.
“This is four years in the making,” said le Clos, just three gold medals away from matching American Ryan Lochte’s record of 14 individual world short-course titles. Le Clos now trains with Dirk Lange in Germany.
“The warrior spirit is back. It was always there but I had to find a way of channel it again. I know winning isn’t everything, but I have taken a lot of losses lately and been written off by people that are close to me.
“I moved to coaches that believed in me. It didn’t matter who was there tonight, I was prepared to die out there… and to remind these guys that I am still here.
“It means so much to me and my family. I have no words, I am just so grateful that I have my coach behind me. I am coming from such a tough place right now, and I am sorry that I am emotional. To be a world champion is like a dream come true again.”
Australia won two more gold medals to continue its domination of the meet. Kyle Chalmers won the 100-meter freestyle in a championship record 45.16 ahead of 17-year-old David Popovici who finished in a world junior record time of 45.64, and then anchored the winning 4×50-meter freestyle relay with teammates Isaac Alan Cooper, Matthew Temple and Flynn Zareb Southam. Chalmers brought them from fifth to first at the wall.
Five-time Olympic gold medalist Emma McKeon delighted the home crowd when she won by 1/100th of a second in the 100 freestyle in a championship record 50.77.
“That was way too close,” McKeon said. “It was a tight finish but what counts is getting your hand on the wall first, that’s everything.”
In a surprise, Americans Dakota Luther and Hali Flickinger duked it out before Luther overtook Flickinger on the back half to win in 2:03.37. Flickinger finished in 2:03.78.
The Americans success continued with double Olympic champion Lilly King winning the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.67.
“It’s great to be back,” King said. “In 2016, I was at the meet and I thought I was invincible and SOFLO’s Alia (Atkinson) played me like a fiddle and whipped my butt. I have had that sour taste in my mouth for the last six years and its good to get the title back.”
Nic Fink then made it three straight gold medals for the U.S. when he overcame Britain’s three-time Olympic champion Adam Peaty in the 100 breaststroke gold. Fink won in 55.88. Nicolò Martinenghi of Italy picked up silver in 56.07 and Peaty, after six weeks out of the pool with a foot injury, came away with bronze in 56.25.
“I am really happy with this result, this is a good one to start the meet with and I am looking forward to defend the other two (breaststroke) events as well,” Fink said. “I was really happy with the World Cup season and completing the trifecta (50-100-200).”
Added Peaty, “I don’t get bronze that often, so that will be a weird one for Wikipedia. It’s great to be back in the arena, I am just enjoying the sport again. I am disappointed, but I am not going to allow myself to be. I have been putting in a lot of hard work but they just out-skilled me tonight. It is what it is, I am what I am.”
The U.S. won two more gold medals with former Gator Kieran Smith winning the 400 freestyle in 3:34.38 and women’s 4×50-meter freestyle relay in a championship record of 1:33.89 with Torri Huske, Claire Curzan, Erika Brown and Kate Douglass.
“It’s the first time that I have been at the top of the podium so it’s a new chapter in my career,” said Smith, who skipped his final year of NCAA eligibility at Florida to turn pro. “It was an exciting race and I knew that those guys were going to be tough, but I was ready.
“You could tell from my face at the finish that my body was burning. I always like to swim races from the front, it’s the way I swim confidently. I knew that I had to pay the ultimate price in order to win.”
Two-time Olympian Dylan Carter of Trinidad and Tobago has another shot at a medal after missing out in the sprint butterfly. The Plantation American Heritage alum earned the fifth fastest qualifying time in the 50-meter backstroke semifinals in 22.90 to advance into Friday’s final.
The meet, which ends Sunday, is being live streamed on FINA’s YouTube channel. Meet prelims are 7 p.m. EST. Finals each day are 3:30 a.m. EST. Melbourne is 16 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com