Brendon Smith bronze medal, Ian Thorpe reaction


Brendon Smith was over the moon after winning Australia’s first medal in Tokyo, storming home to win bronze in the men’s 400m individual medley.

The 21-year-old pulled out a heroic final freestyle leg to mow down the field and touch the wall third. It was an incredible comeback after he found himself languishing in the last couple of places with 100m to go.

“Unbelievable. I can’t believe it,” Smith told Seven after the race. “Twelve months ago when the Games were cancelled or postponed, I thought (it would) give me another opportunity, another year to better my preparation.

“To improve that much and to be able to get on the podium is incredible.”

Smith was rightly ecstatic but Aussie swimming legend Ian Thorpe pointed out the brutal reality of the final, which was dominated by America as Chase Kalisz won gold in a time of 4:09.42, followed by countryman Jay Litherland in second.

Six swimmers broke the 4:10.00 barrier in the heats – including Smith – but Kalisz was the only one to better that mark in the final.

Smith set a new Australian record of 4:09.27 on Saturday – a time that would have secured him gold had he been able to replicate it when it mattered most.

Thorpe said the pressure of an Olympics, and the experience of Smith’s rivals, made that a tough ask.

“The thing that’s tough here, I have to point it out, is if he had swum the time he did in the heat he would have won that final,” Thorpe said in commentary for Channel 7. “And it’s being able to back up from those races and what you do in recovery to be able to get the best out of yourself.

“But still a bronze medal, if you asked him before he came in to these Olympic Games, I doubt he would have said he would have expected to medal.

“This is exceptional. For a young man like this coming into an Olympic Games, being the first international competition that you swim at and to go in with the pressure, the expectation of being the fastest qualifier, it adds that whole new dimension to the pressure that you’re going to be under and that you put yourself into being able to perform.”

Thorpe said Smith “automatically put a target” on his back with his sizzling effort in the heats, which only added to the weight of expectation.

“You’re the one that’s performing well and everyone else looks to you and you feel that,” Thorpe said. “You can feel that coming from the other athletes.

“Only one (swimmer broke 4:10.00 in the final) and that’s the difference. I think that comes with experience.”

Fellow Aussie legend Leisel Jones praised Smith for handling the expectation so well.

“That is such an impressive swim. I am so proud of Brendon,” she told Seven. “No one can underestimate the amount of pressure that these athletes are under and I think he performed really well.

“When the world is looking at you in lane four, it’s so hard to focus.”

Kalisz handled the pressure best to win America its first gold in the pool, going faster in the final than he did in his heat.

Australia picked up another medal in the men’s 400m freestyle when Jack McLoughlin claimed silver. Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui stunned the world to win gold from lane eight after only just managing to sneak into the final.

Elijah Winnington, who posted the same time as McLoughlin in the heats, finished seventh, more than two seconds outside his personal best.

“It is tough. It is my first international final,” Winnington said. “I mean, obviously a little bit disappointed but that’s sport, you have got to get over it and I will be back stronger.”

Speaking on McLoughlin’s performance, Thorpe delivered another truth bomb. “He wasn’t as fast in the final as he swum in the heat,” Thorpe said.

“That was such a tight finish for a 400m freestyle. Just 0.16 of a second separated gold and silver. Jack McLoughlin had the lead. It was just at the very end of that race (he was overtaken).”

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