Brendon Smith has won Australia’s first medal at the Tokyo Olympics after collecting bronze in the men’s 400m individual medley.
Virtually unknown before he arrived in Japan, Smith swam like a man possessed on his final lap to finish third in 4:10.38, just outside the Australian record he set in Saturday’s heats.
Smith became just the second Australian man to win an Olympic medal in the 400 medley, the most gruelling event in the pool, joining Rob Woodhouse who also won bronze in 1984.
Smith qualified fastest for the final with a semifinal time that would have won him the Olympic gold but was unable to repeat that effort and keep up with the American pair of Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland, who took gold and silver.
However, he did an amazing job to get on the podium.
The 21-year-old was last heading into the concluding freestyle leg and seventh when he turned on the last lap but stormed home to open Australia’s medal count.
“That is fantastic to see. Brendon Smith at his first international meet, his first Olympic Games to come away with a bronze medal. He wouldn’t have been expecting that,” Ian Thorpe said on Channel 7.
“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.
“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.”
Smith told Channel 7: “Unbelievable. I can’t believe it. 12 months ago when the Games were cancelled or postponed, I thought give me another opportunity, another year to better my preparation from last time so, you know, to improve that much and to be able to get on the podium is incredible.”
Back home in Australia Smith’s proud family couldn’t believe he had medalled at his first Olympic games.
Sister Nerice Smith said her family were sad to not be in Tokyo, but were with him every step of the way.
“We are over the moon, there were so many tears,” she said.
“We got a bit nervous after the breaststroke.
“But he came home in the freestyle. We’re just so proud. We didn’t expect him to swim as fast as he did in the heat, that was a surprise.
“But he always believes in himself.”
Ms Smith said Brendon’s sudden rise to the top was a surprise.
“It is absolutely a surreal moment,” she said.
“We were hoping he would make the Olympics but we didn’t expect finals, and to come away with a medal is absolutely amazing.”
She said her brother wasn’t a good junior swimmer and didn’t take it up seriously until his mid-teens.
President of Melbourne’s Half Moon Bay Surf Life Saving Club Cliff Goulding said members were “over the moon”.
“We are absolutely ecstatic for Brendon,” Mr Goulding told News Corp Australia.
“The whole club is walking around with Brendon t-shirts on, taking photos in front of the TV. We are all very excited, he is such a gentle, well meaning kid, a great competitor.”
Smith, from Donvale in Melbourne’s east debuted at the games and swum a personal best in his heat on Saturday night.
He grew up doing nippers with the club and patrols and competes when he can.
“Everyone is so happy he got a bronze medal,” Mr Goulding said.
“We are so proud, his family are so proud.”