Kyle Chalmers gave himself every chance of defending his Olympic title but all it took was a fingertip to strip the Aussie of his 100m freestyle crown.
American Caeleb Dressel pipped his biggest rival by just 0.06 seconds in a thrilling race that came down to the wall touch.
Chalmers stunned the world by winning gold as a teenager in Rio and delivered an equal personal best time in Tokyo on Thursday. But he couldn’t quite top Dressel, who sits on the throne of one of the Olympics’ most high-profile races and enhances his reputation as the best American swimmer in a post-Michael Phelps world.
So, did something go wrong for Chalmers or was Dressel just too good? Well, a little bit of both.
Chalmers qualified sixth-fastest for the final, meaning he started in lane seven. Aussie legend Ian Thorpe said it cost him big time.
“Nothing he could have done, in the lane that he was in, could have been better,” Thorpe said. “Had he been in a different lane, the outcome may have changed. That’s all that can be said. You can’t change that.”
Thorpe predicted before the race Chalmers, who breathes on his right side, would find it difficult because in the stretch home he would only be looking at France’s Maxime Grousset in lane eight, rather than Dressel and the rest of his competition for gold in the middle of the pool.
“Look, the concern that I have for Kyle Chalmers is traditionally, he breathes on his right-hand side, which means on the way down, he will be able to see the rest of the field into Caeleb Dressel … which will help get him out in a faster split in the first 50,” Thorpe said.
“He needs to be out faster than he was in the semi-final. If he continues to breathe on his right he won’t be able to hunt them down in the same way as he would normally, because he will be looking at Maxime Grousset in lane eight.”
Commentators suggested Chalmers didn’t look comfortable in his semi-final swim as he clocked a time of 47.8 seconds — 0.03 seconds slower than he went in the heat. That’s what put him in an outside lane and in the end, may have cost him gold.
Chalmers is traditionally a slow starter who powers home in the final 50m. This time around he was quick in the first 50m, as Thorpe predicted, then after the race admitted beginning in lane seven and not being able to check on Dressel’s progress at the back end was an extra hurdle.
“It’s a bit more challenging being on the outside. I have to swim my own race from start to finish and be breathing the other way on the way home,” Chalmers said.
Dressel knew Chalmers was coming home with a bang. “I could actually see him in my peripherals, I knew he was right there,” he said.
“I couldn’t see him, but you can see disturbances in the water. I knew — who else would it be besides Kyle?”
Chalmers was disappointed to get so close but couldn’t have done anything more.