A pre-Olympics letter from Australian swimming great Ian Thorpe has helped inspire Kyle Chalmers to his gold medal performance in the men’s 100 metres freestyle in Rio.
It was revealed last month that Thorpe was one of a number of Australians Olympians asked to pen handwritten letters to Chalmers and his team-mates in the build-up to Rio as a way of forging a connection between past swimmers and the current squad.
In what proved to be an appropriate choice to have Thorpe write to Chalmers, the 18-year-old became the youngest Australian to top the podium in an individual swimming event since the five-time Olympic gold medallist won his first title when he was 17 at the 2000 Sydney Games.
Chalmers spoke about Thorpe’s letter in the wake of his stunning victory in Rio where he became the first Australian male in 48 years to win the Olympic 100m freestyle crown.
He said it meant much to have a swimmer of Thorpe’s standing reach out to him ahead of his Olympic debut.
“He just said, pretty much, just enjoy every moment,” Chalmers said after his gold medal-winning swim.
“He told me it’s not going to be easy but to enjoy it and have fun. That was what I was able to do.”
School set aside for swimming
A lift in Chalmers’ commitment in training following April’s Olympic trials in his home town of Adelaide also paved the way for the teenager to join Jon Henricks (1956), John Devitt (1960) and Mike Wenden (1968) as the Australian men who have won the blue riband sprint at the Games.
Chalmers, whose father Brett played in the AFL with the Power and Crows, had finished second to Cameron McEvoy in Adelaide but since that time he left school, increased his gym work and incorporated other cross-training methods as part of his Rio preparation.
It worked to perfection, as Chalmers set personal bests in his heat (47.90), semi-final (47.88) and final (47.58), all three being world junior records.
“I probably didn’t even realise until tonight that I could be on the podium,” Chalmers said.
“My goal was to get to the final, we had been training to go 47.5.
“I dropped out of school to be able to make sure that I’m able to train as often as possible, picked up gym, yoga.
“There are plenty of things I’ve done to help my performance tonight but I’m very excited to get on the podium and to win a gold medal for Australia.”
Brett Chalmers conceded he was nervous when his son dropped back to seventh place, before his trademark burst in the last 50 metres.
He said the 18-year-old had not quite come to terms with the remarkable win.
“Just had a chat with him before. It hadn’t sunk in, Kyle’s Kyle, he’s a pretty laidback sort of chap,” he said.
“He had his gold medal in his pocket, which he’s done with every medal he’s ever won — he takes it off and puts it in his pocket and hides it.
“He hates showing stuff off. So I said, ‘where’s your medal?’ He said, ‘in my pocket’.”
‘It was hard not having McEvoy on the podium’
While taking pride in his stunning performance, Chalmers still felt for McEvoy, who finished seventh in the final in a time of 48.12.
McEvoy carried the weight of favouritism into the Rio Games, courtesy of his world-leading 47.04 from the Olympic trials, but could not manage to come close to his national record during the past two days.
Chalmers had hoped both he and McEvoy would have medalled together, admitting he would rein in his celebrations out of respect to his countryman.
“It was hard, it was hard not having him there [on the podium],” Chalmers said.
“But it is what it is.”
Chalmers’ win prevented American Nathan Adrian from winning back-to-back golds in the 100m freestyle.
Adrian enjoyed an upset win at the London Olympics when he beat Australian favourite James Magnussen to the wall but he had to settle for bronze in Rio after clocking 47.85.
Belgium’s Pieter Timmers was the silver medallist in 47.80.