SYDNEY (Reuters) - Kyle Chalmers stunned the swimming world when he stormed to gold in the 100 metres freestyle at the Rio Olympics and the Australian believes greatness awaits if he can retain his title in Tokyo next year.
The 21-year-old said he took a while to digest the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics because of the COVID-19 pandemic but is convinced that the delay will only further raise the profile of the global gathering.
“After it being postponed, which we’ve never seen before, next year it’s going to be the biggest Olympics we’ve ever seen,” he told Reuters by phone from Adelaide last week.
“So if you are able to stand up and swim well there, you are going to cement yourself as one of the greats of the sport.
“That’s something which is motivating me through this period where I am not able to swim. If I do manage to swim well next year, I’ll be remembered for a good while to come.”
Chalmers, then a teenager, became the first Australian in nearly half a century to win the blue riband event when he scorched the second lap of the Rio pool after turning seventh.
Tokyo, whether in 2020 or 2021, was always going to be a different scenario but Chalmers is ready to embrace the pressure of being defending champion as he bids to emulate Pieter van den Hoogenband and Alexander Popov by going back-to-back.
“Obviously I was able to fly under the radar last time but I’m honestly looking forward to having the eyes on me and having the pressure on me,” he said.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted, I’ve always wanted to be an elite athlete and that’s all part of what comes with it. I’m looking forward to standing behind the blocks and the guys looking at me as the person to beat.
“And also having my country watching and supporting me and knowing that if I am able to win it’s something an Aussie has never done.
“It’s something motivates me daily.”
UNSHAVEN AND UN-TAPERED
Motivation is something that Chalmers has needed over what have been four tricky years since his triumph at the Estadio Aquatico Olimpico.
Even before the unprecedented shutdown of sport because of COVID-19 he had endured three operations to correct a condition that rapidly increased his heartbeat during exercise.
“The third time they are more confident that they’ve done it this time,” he said.
“I had that done in August last year and I’ve had no problems since. It’s just one less thing I have to worry about on the blocks.”
Some time away fishing with his cousin helped him deal with the disappointment of the Olympics being postponed, and the loan of a swimming pool in a shipping container will help him stay in condition during the shutdown.
Chalmers thought he was in the best physical condition of his life before his training pool closed and he is determined to maintain that preparation through to Tokyo next July.
“I’m working hard to get back into the pool in better shape than when I left, that’s my goal,” he added.
That determination only intensified when he discovered that his rivals in other parts of the world are still able to train relatively normally.
“It’s quite frustrating to hear about them training when we’re not able to, so I have to find a way to get into the water and stay fit if I’m going to be competitive next year with guys who haven’t missed any time out of the water,” he said.
Chalmers is also looking to add the 100m butterfly to his repertoire for Tokyo after swimming 51.37 seconds to win the final at the New South Wales Open Championships in March.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I trained a lot of butterfly early in the season just to pick up my fitness quite quickly. I raced in Sydney unshaven and un-tapered and swam really well. I kind of shocked myself with that...
“It’s going to mean a busy schedule but the greats of the sport have been able to do busy schedules and I know that I should be able to do two races a day.
“The butterfly was my event growing up, it’s sort of just faded away as I got better at freestyle. I’m working hard at it now and I want to be able to do it on the big stage.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford