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FIRST MEDAL: How pandemic helped Smith go from 50th in world to Olympic podium

Brendon Smith reacts to his bronze medal. (photo by Getty Images)
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25th July, 2021
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A year ago, when the Olympics were postponed, Brendon Smith was ranked 50th in the world. On Sunday he stepped on the podium as Australia’s first medallist of the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze in the 400 metre swim individual medley.

The one year delay has ruined some Olympic dreams, but been the maker of others. A year ago it’s unlikely Smith would have made the team, let alone the podium.

And as Smith laboured through a winter lockdown in Victoria, his dad Peter drained some water out of their home pool and topped it up with a little slash of hot from the tap.

“I hooked it up with hot water so he could swing his arm over,” Peter said on Sunday. “Whatever it takes. He’s done it tough.”

Smith, 21, had qualified fastest for the final and stormed home from eighth into the final discipline, the freestyle, to finish third behind American winner Chase Kalisz.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Smith. “Twelve months ago when the Games were postponed I thought it would give me an opportunity. To improve that much to get on the podium is incredible.”

Smith was quite literally a water baby.

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He and his three siblings were put into swimming lessons before they could walk by mum Annisa and dad Peter, who met when they were both in Australian Lifesaving teams.

Annisa said the message was: “until you can beat us in the pool you won’t be safe to go out in the sea. That’s where it started.”

The family is deeply entrenched in the Nunawading swim club. Peter was a four time club captain between 1980 and 1985 and won the club’s highest award, the Butler Trophy, three times.

Brendon made an Australia youth lifesaving team, and he’s a member of the Half Moon Bay SLSC, but said he was slow to make an impression in the pool.

“I was never the best swimmer but when I was 15 or 16 I dropped a lot of time and started to take it seriously. The rest is history.”

Brendon, who went to Yarra Valley Grammar, surprised himself at the Olympic trials with a national record in an event that has not been one Australia’s strongest at the Olympics – Rob Woodhouse was our last medallist in the event in 1984, where he claimed bronze.

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