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.”
Seebohm left Rio in tears after failing to qualify for the 200m final as the hot favourite and finishing second last in her pet event, the 100m backstroke.
At the time she was battling endometriosis, a painful condition where tissue usually found inside the uterus grows outside.
Her latest triumph came as 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 the squad’s tally to eight medals, including five silver.
The United States lead with 14 gold, 10 silver and seven bronze.
A member of the Australian team since she was 14, Seebohm considered retirement after Rio but was persuaded by her partner, Larkin, to give it another try.
She underwent surgery for her endometriosis in late 2016 and has not looked back.
“Mitch was my saviour, to keep pushing me and help me through every stage,” Seebohm said.
Spurred on by a fanatical crowd, Hosszu looked set to pull off a major boilover when she loomed large in lane one.
But Seebohm said the raucous fans only added to her resolve.
“That kind of helped me. I could listen to the crowd and knew it must have been really close between us,” said Seebohm, who claimed gold by 0.17 of a second.
“It helped me give a little bit more than I had.”
Seebohm said she hoped her gold medal would would inspire Australia on the final day.
World champion Campbell (50m freestyle), Rio 400m freestyle gold medallist Mack Horton (1,500m freestyle) and Australia’s men’s and women’s medley relay teams will be in finals action on day eight.
The US was sparked on day seven by Caeleb Dressel (100m butterfly, 50m freestyle and a world-record 4x100m mixed freestyle relay) who became the first person to win three gold medals in one day.