Australia and the US fueled their rivalry as the best swimming nations at the Tokyo Olympics, but it’s the emergence of two teenage sensations that could ignite the flames in Paris 2024.
Mollie O’Callaghan is already well on her way to becoming Australia’s next swimming superstar, while the US can consider Bella Sims, 17, to be their young gun of comparison.
O’Callaghan, 18, won gold in the 100m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games and world championships, as well as silver medals in the 200m freestyle in the same two competitions.
The Queensland teenager also has multiple medals in the freestyle relay, including two Olympic golds, but was unable to add another title to that collection when he faced USA and Sims in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the world championships.
O’Callaghan won silver in the 200m freestyle behind Junxuan Yang from China the day before. So when she entered the pool 1.07 seconds behind Sims on the final stage of the 4x200m, a close finish seemed likely.
But Sims pulled away from his highly regarded opponent to extend the lead to 2.41 seconds and keep Australia in second place.
“I think it was the first time I ran with her, in that relay,” Sims said of the race and O’Callaghan.
“It took everything I had. When I got out I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t even stand up, my legs hurt so much.
“My team wanted to hug, but first I had to sit down.”
A highly anticipated rematch was scheduled for the Duel in the Pool event between Australia and the United States at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Center, but Sims and O’Callaghan have to wait.
Sims swam in the 4x800m open water relay that opened the event on Friday, winning the 200m stage before winning the 400 freestyle on Saturday.
The American swimmer was also narrowly beaten in the traditional 200m freestyle later in the evening.
Unfortunately for the noisy crowd of 3,355 spectators, O’Callaghan skipped those races to instead focus on events up to 100 meters during the competition.
“We have such depth in the 200 and 100 free styles, so I knew the girls would be perfectly fine without me,” O’Callaghan said of losing the Sims rematch.
“I think I was needed in the 100 backstroke, so I was happy to do it.
“But it’s always nice to have competition coming.”
Teams have yet to decide their swimmers for Sunday’s races, but with the “random” mixed freestyle relay slated to be the final event, it could see O’Callaghan and Sims compete as they determine which nation claims Duel in the Pool. title.