Gabrielle on top of the world
In a backstroke rivalry that could stretch for years, Kiwi and Aussie Minna finish one-two
She candidly conceded she was intimidated but, picking up the gauntlet, New Zealand teenager Gabrielle Fa'amausili proved she could dig deep.
On Friday morning, the 15-year-old broke her own women's 50m backstroke world junior record of 28.14sec by clocking 28.09 in the heats at the Fina World Junior Championships.
Just a minute later, she watched as Australia's Minna Atherton lowered it to 28.00 and the youngster from Down Under followed it up with a new world mark in the evening semi-finals when she clocked 27.92.
It set up a potentially exciting showdown in the final and speaking to The New Paper last night, Gabrielle said: "It was my first time racing Minna at an international meet and (knowing what Minna had done), I was a bit scared when I went out there for the final.
"But I just decided to go out there, do my own thing and have fun."
That she did in a superlative 50m backstroke final at the OCBC Aquatic Centre last night when both rivals touched the wall under world junior record time.
Ultimately, Gabrielle pipped Minna by 0.02 to reclaim her world junior mark and retain the gold she won in Dubai 2013 with a blistering 27.81, the eighth fastest time anywhere this year.
"I was hoping for the world junior record and to see it on the board was just crazy," said Gabrielle, who foiled Minna's bid to win all three backstroke events.
Ironically, Gabrielle's meteoric rise almost never took off after she nearly drowned during swimming lessons when she was three.
She overcame her fear only three years later, started swimming competitively when she was nine and now hopes to make it to next year's Rio Olympics in the 100m backstroke (the 50m backstroke is not an Olympic event).
Minna's disappointment turned to delight later when she was part of the Australian women's 4x100m freestyle relay team that took gold in a new world junior record time of 3min 39.87sec.
The Aussies were lagging in fourth at the halfway point, almost a second behind leaders Russia, before Gemma Cooney and anchor Lucy McJannett turned on the afterburners to beat the Russians by 0.04sec.
"We were confident after setting a world junior record in the 4x200m freestyle relay (7:56.68)," said Gemma.
"We knew it would take another record time to win tonight. We just hoped it was us."
On a night of upsets, Italy's Simona Quadarella beat the top qualifier, American Sierra Schmidt, to win the women's 1,500m freestyle in a new championship record of 16:05.61.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian 16-year-old Andrii Khloptsov overcame the odds in the men's 50m butterfly final when he touched the wall first in 23.64, ahead of highly-touted American Michael Andrew.
"Oh my God, I can't believe it," exclaimed Andrii.
"I have just a little talent and I just swam."
Sean Grieshop did salvage some pride and a gold for the United States when he won the men's 400m individual medley with a time of 4:15.67, shaving more than a second of his previous best of 4:17.02.
Don't miss the final night
The 5th Fina World Junior Swimming Championship concludes tonight at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and fans who want to catch a glimpse of the top-class action can still do so buy purchasing tickets for the heats (starting 10am; $10), semi-finals and finals (starting 6pm; $20) from www.sportshubtix.com.sg or at the box office.
The 11 finals contested tonight are the men's 100m freestyle, 200m backstroke, 1,500m freestyle, 200m butterfly, 50m breaststroke, 4x100m medley relay, and the women's 200m breaststroke, 100m butterfly, 50m freestyle, 200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay.