Emily Seebohm celebrates after winning the women’s 200 metres backstroke final. (Reuters: David Balogh)
Emily Seebohm has delivered Australia its first gold medal of the swimming program at the world championships in Budapest after setting a new national record to defend her women’s 200 metres backstroke crown.
Australia had gone without gold through the first six days of the world titles but on the penultimate night Seebohm, 25, clocked two minutes and 05.68 seconds to hold out local hope Katinka Hosszu with American Kathleen Baker third.
Australia’s Kaylee McKeown – just 16 years old – set a new junior world record (2:05.85) to finish fourth on debut.
It capped a remarkable comeback for Seebohm, who considered walking away from the sport after health issues sabotaged her Rio Olympic campaign.
“I am just amazed at what I have been able to achieve tonight,” said Seebohm, who won bronze in the 100m backstroke earlier in the program.
“But if I had won or lost tonight I would have been so proud of my performances and what I have overcome.”
It was also an enormous relief to an Australian team that had been running out of time to finally register gold.
Bronte Campbell (100m freestyle), Mitch Larkin (100m-200m backstroke) and Seebohm (100m backstroke) had earlier failed to defend their world titles in Hungary.
There was a real fear Australia may go without gold in a swimming event at a world titles for the first time since 1986.
But Seebohm ensured Australia jumped from 12th to seventh on the table by striking gold and boosting their tally to eight medals, including five silver.
The United States lead with 14 gold, 10 silver and seven bronze.