Team Australia kicked off the 2016 Olympic Games in record fashion yesterday on the first day of competition of the 31st Modern Olympiad. In the pool the Aussies took home 2 gold medals; one in the men’s 400 meter freestyle where up-and-comer Mack Horton dethroned 2012 Olympic champion and reigning world champion Sun Yang of China. After the two exchanged barbs in the lead-up to the race, the stage was set for an epic showdown, and neither disappointed. While Horton was well off of Yang’s Olympic record of 3:40.14 from 2012, he still managed to get to the wall 0.13 ahead of the towering Sun Yang.
Verhaeren comments that he, like the rest of us, was screaming at the TV while watching the men’s 400 meter freestyle. Verhaeren attributes much of Horton’s success to the experience he earned last summer in Kazan, where he did not even make the finals because he swam too easy during the heats. Horton did not do that this time, positioning himself in the middle of the pool.
Australia’s other gold medal, along with a new world record, came in the women’s 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay. Though the Americans had the lead for the first 200 meters, Bronte Campbell made up the deficit and inched ahead of Dana Vollmer on the third leg of the race. Twin sister Cate went into the water, followed closely by American distance queen Katie Ledecky. Though Ledecky split an impressing 52.7, it was not nearly enough to catch the recent world record holder in the 100 freestyle. Campbell increased the lead immediately and never looked back. The Australians finished in 3:30.65, a new Olympic and world record. Team USA was 2nd in 3:31.89. Verhaeren believed all along that the Aussie women could take down their own world record in the relay if they remained calm and focused.
While gold medals and world records are certainly things to get excited about, Verhaeren also says that he wants the Dolphins to stay focused and “only celebrate on day 9” when the meet is over. There is a lot more swimming yet to come in these Rio Olympics, and Team Australia has both men and women that are the favorites in a multitude of other races.