Sam Williamson wins
Sam Williamson punches the air after winning Australia's first swimming gold at the world titles. Image by AP PHOTO
  • swimming

Williamson races to Dolphins’ first world swimming gold

Ian Chadband February 15, 2024

Sam Williamson has roared to Australia’s first swimming gold in the pool in Doha, clocking the fourth fastest time in history as he annexed the 50 metres breaststroke crown.

On their best night yet in Doha, Williamson’s blistering triumph capped a four-medal haul for the Dolphins on Wednesday with Elijah Winnington capturing an unexpected second silver of the championships in the 800m freestyle .

Brianna Throssell then earned the solo medal which will have delighted the stalwart’s teammates – finally, a thoroughly deserved individual bronze in the 200m freestyle after 13 times previously having been on the podium in relay quartets.

Sam Williamson
 Williamson smiles after clocking the fourth fastest 50m breaststroke time in history. Image by AP PHOTO 

To complete their landmark nights at the Aspire Dome, Williamson and Throssell quickly returned to the pool to join Bradley Woodward and Shayna Jack in the mixed 4x100m relay quartet that took silver behind the USA in the final.

For Throssell, it was a 15th world championship medal in total, but pride of place went to 26-year-old Melbourne swimmer Williamson, who bettered the Australian record of 26.41sec that he’d set in the semi-final with his searing final time of 26.32 in the breaststroke dash.

It looked an unlikely outcome as, after a slow start, he battled into the lead by halfway but looked set to be edged out at the finish before touching fractionally ahead of Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi (26.39) and American Nic Fink (26.49).

“I’m really at a loss for words,” Williamson said, as he pondered his dramatic rise. 

“Eighteen months ago, I watched this race from the couch at home. Last year at the worlds, I was in lane eight, so just to get a chance to race these guys – I mean, they’re my heroes – it’s pretty special,” he added, after also earning the scalp of British great, Adam Peaty, in fourth (26.77).

Winnington, who just missed out on regaining his 400m free title, had another stellar swim in the 800m, roaring out under world record schedule, inevitably being overhauled as he tired and then rallying past Gregorio Paltrinieri on the last lap for silver in 7min 42.95sec behind Ireland’s first-ever champ, Daniel Wiffen (7:40.94).

“I knew that my speed was my strength and that if I tried to sit back, I probably just would have fallen apart. So my coach and I just thought ‘let’s just go for it and see where we land’, so I’m happy,” said the Gold Coast ace.

Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey (1:54.89) took the 200m free crown but in the absence of Mollie O’Callaghan and Ariarne Titmus, who are keeping their powder dry for the Olympics, Throssell kept the Aussie flag flying strongly, clocking 1:56.00 for her bronze. Jack ran out of steam in seventh.

“Look I won’t be doing the 200 freestyle at the Olympics – I think Mollie and Ariarne have that covered,” smiled Subiaco’s 28-year-old Throssell.

“But it was an incredible opportunity for me to race here and my first time ever stepping on this podium individually, so I’m just so happy.” 

She was even happier with yet another relay medal later, but the Australian four, who clocked 3:43.12, couldn’t cope with the powerful US quartet of Fink, Hunter Armstrong, Claire Curzan and Kate Douglass (3:40.22).

The performances doubled the Dolphins’ swimming haul to eight – one gold, five silvers and two bronze – on a night when the medals were once again shared round, with no less than 12 countries now having struck gold in the weaker than usual swimming programme.