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McKeon delivers bold bronze for gutsy Aussies

10 August 2016

SWIMMING: Olympic relay gold medallist Emma McKeon has added to her medal haul, swimming out of her skin to win the bronze medal in the women’s 200m freestyle final from lane seven on the fourth night of competition at the Aquatic Centre in Rio.

The 23-year-old left nothing to chance, leading for the first 100 metres and hanging on to finish third in a time of 1:54.92, just 0.09 of a second outside the Australian record she set in April. 

Swimming at her first Olympic Games, McKeon was an outside shot at a place on the podium in this event with American 2012 champion Katie Ledecky, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and Italy’s 2008 champion Frederica Pellegrini favourites for the top three.

But following her seventh place finish in the 100m butterfly earlier in the week, the rising star was hungry for success and gave it her all in the heats, semis and final of the 200m freestyle to hold off Pellegrini (fourth in 1:55.18) and take a deserved place on the podium.

“I can’t really put it into words,” McKeon said.

“I’m just so happy and so relieved. Relieved that it is over because I did put a lot of pressure on myself in the 200 freestyle because I feel like that’s where my potential is. I just feel so happy that I could get a bronze medal.”

With swimming in her blood, McKeon was almost destined for success with her father Ron, Mother Susie, Brother David and Uncle Rob Woodhouse all representing Australia. But Emma is only the second person in her family, along with Uncle Rob, to bring home an individual Olympic medal – a testament to her toughness.

In an ironic coincidence Rob, called the race for ABC radio broadcast in Australia, while the rest of her family watched on in the crowds.

The gold medal went to the Ledecky in 1:53.73 with Sjostrom securing the silver in 1:54.08.

The race was all the more sweet as McKeon got to swim next to her training partner and Australian swim team veteran Bronte Barratt.

“I was just so happy that I got to share that moment with Bronte Barratt. I train with her back at home and we both put in a lot of work, also the fact that she got bronze in London, so that was pretty special to be with her for that,” McKeon said.

“She’s experienced it all and to have someone like that, that has been a big inspiration to me throughout my entire swimming career so far was very special.”

In what was an emotional race for Barratt, being her last individual swim ever for Australia following an 11-year stint on the team, it was comforting to have her teammate beside her.

“I was crying my eyes out,” an emotional Bronte Barratt said.

“That is the first time I have done a PB in that event since 2011, so it’s been five years and I’m just so happy that I could do it tonight in the Olympic final and next to my teammate Emma and I’m so happy for her getting bronze tonight. I couldn’t have asked for a better last individual race for me, I’m just so happy.”

The bronze medallist in this event from 2012 wasn’t going to let her lane dictate her result, and swum her first personal best (PB) in five years from lane eight with a time of 1:55.25 to finish equal fifth overall.

“I’ve done a really good job of just putting my emotions aside and just coming here to do a job and just sneaking into the final last night I knew that I had a chance tonight. You know, anything is possible from lane eight.”

Barratt, who has represented Australia on every major international long course meet since the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, has won an impressive 20 international medals, including Olympic gold in 2008 in the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay.

On Wednesday August 10 Rio time (August 11 AEST) she will compete in the 4x200m freestyle relay race again and anything could happen.

“You just don’t really know what is going to happen, as so many of these races over the last few days have shown,” Barratt said.

“If we get in that final tomorrow night anything can happen. In Beijing we were in lane seven and no one expected anything of us.”

End of an era as Coutts bids farewell to swimming

Five-time Olympic medallist Alicia Coutts also bid farewell to the pool tonight, putting in a gutsy effort to finish fifth overall in the final of the women’s 200m individual medley.

“In my first Olympics I came fifth in the 200m IM final so it’s only fitting to finish fifth here. I would have liked to have gone faster but I’m not disappointed. I know I gave it everything I had tonight. I’m just sad because it’s the end of an era for me,” Coutts said.

Coutts clocked a time of 2:10.88 with Katinka Hosszu from Hungary grabbing the gold, Great Britain's Siobhan Marie O’Connor the silver and Maya DiRado the bronze.

The triple Olympian was Australia’s medley master for the past few years, swimming in the 200m individual medley final at the last three Olympic Games and winning silver in London.

With a total of 28 medals from major international meets, Coutts has certainly made her mark on the sport and her incredible career will go down in history.

Her five medals from London 2012 was the equal largest medal haul by any Australian at an Olympic Games, she has also won eight world championship medals, six from the Pan Pacific Games and nine from the Commonwealth Games.

The 28-year-old whose father passed away when she was a child said she often races for him.

“I always have him in my mind,” Coutts said of her late father, through tears.”

“I think he would be proud of my achievements. It’s a big part of my life. I guess not many people can stand up at the end of their career and say they came away with 28 international medals, so I’m really proud of my achievements.”

Next on the agenda for Coutts is a belated honeymoon with her husband Steve, they leave straight after the Games.

Gutsy relay effort from 4x200m free team

Meanwhile, the Australian men’s 4x200m freestyle relay team of Thomas Fraser-Holmes, David McKeon, Dan Smith and Mack Horton, put in a gutsy effort in the final event.

With the men’s 100m freestyle field so tight, the decision was made to rest Cameron McEvoy for his individual event to give him the best possible chance for success.

Not leaving anything to chance, Fraser-Holmes took it out fast and led for the majority of the first leg, managing to split a 1:45.81.

Then it was over to McKeon who was rested for the heats and then managed to produce one of his fastest relay swims ever, clocking a 1:45.63 to keep the Aussie team inside the top three at the change.

“It was just great to get the call into the team after a disappointing individual 200m swim,” said McKeon.

“To make the 400m final and have the two 400s on day one and then to back up for the 200 did take its toll so to get the chance to join the boys was great.

“Everyone did their job and I can see a real future for this team.”

And on little sister Emma’s bronze medal?

“So thrilled for her – she has worked so hard and really deserved it and with our parents the stands watching it was a great night,” said McKeon.

Olympic debutant Smith was third in, and up against one the USA’s all-time greats in Ryan Lochte and with three teams fighting for a medal position he clocked a 1:47.37 to hand it over to Horton to bring them home.

Horton, who won gold in the 400m freestyle on night one, showed why he wants to be part of this team for the next four years in the run to Tokyo 2020, split a sizzling 1:45.37, touching an agonising 0.68 outside the medal positions in fourth with a total time of 7:04.18.

Although just out of the medals the Australians, coached by Denis Cotterell, can stand tall with a bright future.

Semi-final swims create excitement for next big night of finals

It was a sensational night for Australia in the semi-finals held at the Rio Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Tuesday night (Wednesday AEST). 

To start the session Australian 100m freestylers Kyle Chalmers and Cameron McEvoy were superb qualifying for the 100m final tomorrow night as the 2nd and 3rd fastest respectively.

World Championships silver medallist McEvoy swam an impressive race in semi-final one to place second comfortably.

Swimming from lane 5, McEvoy turned in third place in 22.88 seconds and then powered home to finish in 47.93 seconds. 2012 Olympic champion Nathan Adrian won the semi from lane eight. His winning time of 47.83 seconds was 0.75 seconds quicker than his heat swim that saw him almost miss the semi-finals.

McEvoy was a long way off his personal best of 47.04 seconds but he is happy with how he is performing and he is looking forward to his first individual Olympic final.

“It’s really close between the top eight and I guess that makes for an exciting final tomorrow night,” McEvoy said.

“I think it is going to be so much fun swimming in my first individual final. I remember my first world final I just went out there and loved the whole experience. It was just an honour to have that whole lane to myself and to say that I own that lane for that one final and tomorrow will be no different to that.

“I went out a little bit slower than my trials final but it was also a little quicker than my trials semi and it felt about the same as that as well. I’m not really getting too caught up in comparing stuff but that felt nice and strong. Having the morning off will now put me in a strong position for the final.”

From lane 4 in semi-final 2, 18-year-old Chalmers turned in seventh and then powered home like he did in the heat to win the semi-final in another personal best and world junior record of 47.88.

“It’s pretty exciting. I probably didn’t expect to get through that final especially with that time,” Chalmers said.

“I know coming into the meet I wanted to swim a 48 flat in the semi. To be able to go that twice today is very exciting and now I will get a good sleep tonight and be prepared for tomorrow night.

“I swim to my strengths and my strength is my back end and that’s what I did again tonight. I’m not worried when I turn at the wall I know that I’ve got that back end. Those guys might be half a second ahead of me at the turn but I work my butt off to get on that wall at the end.”

The gold caps will be on either side of the defending champion in the final.

Australia has a proud history in the women’s 200m butterfly and Madeline Groves and Brianna Throssel are continuing that.

At their first Olympic Games, Groves has qualified fastest and Throssel seventh for the final after outstanding semi-final swims.

Throssel, 20, got out strong in semi-final 1 and despite being fifth at the halfway mark she always looked in control and finished third in 2:07.19 seconds.

The next semi saw Groves lead from start to finish and win in 2:05.66. She was under world record pace for much of the race and swam the fastest time by an Australian at the Olympic Games. She was inspired by the legend Michael Phelps.

“It’s been a very big meet for the whole team so far and what better way to gee up before the race than seeing the GOAT (greatest of all time – Michael Phelps) take out his 20th gold medal,” Groves said. “It was pretty awesome watching that in marshalling.”

“It was a really good night for us with both our boys going well and Emma getting onto the podium. With two of them being my teammates it makes me feel like I can go out there and do the same thing as we have been doing the same sets for the past few years.”

“I really enjoy going out there really fast and putting pressure on the other girls in the first 100 and I think I did really well with that tonight.

“I’m really, really happy. Going a 2:05 and a 2:07 in the same day is really awesome for me and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night.”

Throssel was pleased for hetr teammate and is pumped up for the final.

“It’s really game on now. Maddie swam fastest then I’m in seventh so it’s a dream to have two girls in the final so it’s going to be a really good race tomorrow night.
“It was great for Maddie to qualify as the top seed and I will hopefully follow in her footsteps.”

Before the finals on Wdnesday night there will be plenty of Australians in action for the heats session including Cate and Bronte Campbell and Mitch Larkin. Australia’s swimming medal tally currently sits at two gold and two bronze. 

Kathleen Rayment

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