Australia’s new global swim star Elijah Winnington is set to challenge for a second world championship medal – just a year after he nearly quit the sport.
The 22-year-old Gold Coast freestyler battled into the 200m final on Sunday in Budapest, determined to get on the podium again in Monday’s final 48 hours after his emphatic 400m win.
“This time last year I never thought this day would happen, I thought I would be hanging up the goggles,” Winnington had declared after Saturday’s win in the opening event.
“To bounce back is really cool but this meet I’ve always treated as a stepping stone leaping forward. By no means will this be the best I ever produce and I know that.”
He was already looking forward on Sunday as he produced another fine swim to make the final of the four-length event as the fifth-fastest in a high-quality field.
He showed his strength on the last stretch of the first semi-final on Sunday evening, closing strongly to finish third in his heat in 1 minute 45.53 seconds.
He’ll have his work cut out to land a second medal after the brilliant Romanian 17-year-old David Popovici led the qualifiers with a smooth new world junior record of 1:44.40.
But Winnington’s confidence is high – all a far cry from last year at the Olympics in which he’d gone into the 400m as the No.1 in the world but ended up coming home seventh, a failure that left him crestfallen and considering his future.
Winnington, who’s joined the elite trio of Kieren Perkins, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett as the only Aussie men to win the global 400m, reckoned he knew he was going to prevail on Saturday with a length and a half to go.
“It’s really just a mental game now, it’s who is tougher in the mind and with 75m to go, I don’t want to sound cocky or anything but I knew I was going to be world champion, I knew I had it in me,” Winnington said of Saturday’s win.