Australia has a new world swimming champion after Lani Pallister won the 400m freestyle on the opening day of the world short course titles in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Pallister and New Zealand’s Erika Fairweather went stroke for stroke for the first 300m before the Australian pulled away over the last four laps to touch in a time of 3:55.04, well clear of Fairweather and USA’s Leah Smith.
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Pallister took advantage of a weakened field that was without the world’s four fastest women over the 400m freestyle.
Australian Olympic champion Ariarne Titmus has chosen not to swim this week, while American superstar Katie Ledecky and Canadian teen sensation Summer McIntosh have opted not to compete in Melbourne either.
China’s Li Binglie had been the red-hot favourite to win the 400m free in their absence, but the short course world record holder withdrew from the morning heats with a reported fever.
Nonetheless it was a strong swim by Pallister and just reward after she has endured a couple of years from hell.
The 20-year-old narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics team and has overcome heart surgery and an eating disorder to rediscover her love of swimming.
“I pretty much gave the sport away at the end of last year,” Pallister told reporters post race.
“I hadn’t trained for close to three months and didn’t really want anything to do with it anymore. I had lost my love for the sport. I’d missed four senior teams in a row by one spot, which when you’re that close constantly, it just breaks your heart one by one.
“To be in the position that I am now going to my first long course world champs, and then Comm Games, I did Duel in the Pool, and now I’m competing at short course world champs with a gold medal. It’s just insane.
“I don’t have any plans on stopping swimming anytime soon and I can’t wait to keep building on this.
“Being able to turn to the stands and see my mum who’s on deck, was just so special. My whole family’s here. It’s an incredible opportunity to have a meet like this on home soil.”
Titmus will be commentating the world championships for Australian TV and Pallister paid tribute to her Dolphins teammate for paving the way for her.
“It is really cool,” she said of keeping the 400m gold medal in Australian hands.
“I got a text from her (Titmus) this morning saying, ‘good luck for tonight’.
“I’m excited to see her on pool deck and it’s nice for her to have a break off the year that she’s had this year. She broke the world record, Commonwealth Games champion again. Her career’s been something that’s really inspiring for me as a younger athlete looking up. Now being on teams with her is just incredible.”
Story Credit: news.com.au