Australia’s Kyle Chalmers won the gold medal on Wednesday in the men’s 100 metres freestyle, the blue riband event in the pool, storming through in the final lap to touch first in 47.58 seconds.
Pieter Timmers of Belgium took the silver in 47.80 and defending Olympic champion Nathan Adrian of the United States claimed the bronze in 47.85.
Trailing seventh at the turn, Chalmers powered through the field in the last 50 metres, recording a split of 24.44 seconds for the second lap to become the first Australian man to win the event since Mike Wenden in 1968 at Mexico City.
Only 0.83 seconds separated all eight men, as the spray flew in the final drive for the wall.
“It’s not sinking into me that I’ve actually won, so I’m very excited,” Chalmers, 18, told reporters.
“I was next to the reigning Olympic champion. Although it was pretty daunting, I loved every second of it.”
But he voiced regret for team-mate Cameron McEvoy, second at last year’s world championships, who managed only seventh in 48.12 seconds.
“I don’t want to celebrate too much because I know it would have been very hard for him,” he said.
Caeleb Dressel of the United States got off to a fast start but it was Canada’s Santo Condorelli who led after 50 metres from Adrian, who had qualified fastest for the final, despite only just squeezing into the semi-finals from the heats.
“I’m so proud to be a medallist for two Olympiads,” Adrian told reporters. “It’s what you work for. It would be great to have gold, but in this day and age the 100 freestyle is maybe the most fickle event out there.”
The result was a huge disappointment for Australia’s McEvoy, who dropped the 200 freestyle from his Rio schedule in order to focus on the sprints.