Aussie robbed of gold in 'horrible' drama at swimming world championships

Isaac Cooper, pictured here after he kept swimming and thought he'd won gold in the 50m backstroke.
Isaac Cooper initially kept swimming and thought he'd won gold in the 50m backstroke. Image: Channel 9/Getty

Australia's Isaac Cooper has been robbed of a gold medal in controversial scenes after a technical error at the short course world swimming championships. The Aussie teenager thought he'd won gold in the 50m backstroke on Friday night, only to find out that only half the field had completed the race after an alarm sounded.

Cooper continued to race and touched the wall in a time of 22.49 seconds, which would have won gold and set a new junior world record. However he was left bewildered when no one was cheering at the end of the race and knew something was wrong.

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It initially appeared as though one of the swimmers had false-started, however officials later revealed the alarm went off to to a technical glitch. After some deliberation it was ruled that the race would be re-swum an hour later.

Cruelly for Cooper, he only finished second in the re-swim and was left in tears. Cooper clocked 22.73 in his second effort to pick up the silver medal as Ryan Murphy of America touched home ahead of the Queenslander.

It came as another devastating blow for the 18-year-old Cooper after he was banished from Australia's Commonwealth Games team earlier this year for misusing prescription medication. Mental health challenges contributed to the decision to send him home.

Consoled by both Murphy and his family in the stands after the medal ceremony, Cooper said it felt like another blow after his Games disappointment. "Life keeps on throwing shit at me and I keep on pushing through," Cooper told reporters.

"I've been trying my best - I've gone through so many low points and all I want to do is to be able to stand on top and every time I do I get knocked back again. If I can come back from this I know I will be a better person, a better athlete."

Murphy, who also won the 100m backstroke, said he felt for Cooper and dubbed the Aussie the true champion. "I was pretty disappointed the way that it shook out," he told reporters.

"I really feel for Isaac - he's 18 and going for your first individual world title and that's huge and an incredible accomplishment. I'm going to talk to him and let him know that in my mind he won that race."

Aussie coach Rohan Taylor said there was unanimous agreement from all the countries that a re-swim would need to take place. He said: "It's the only fair way - there was a malfunction of the starting system so there was no other option.

"There were people who didn't swim the race. Obviously Isaac might not be happy with that (winning silver) and I understand that and I totally respect that but it's about what you take away from these thing and learn."

Isaac Cooper, pictured here after thinking he'd won the 50m backstroke at the short course world swimming championships.
Isaac Cooper looks on after thinking he'd won the 50m backstroke at the short course world swimming championships. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Swimming world left fuming over 'horrible' drama

Speaking in commentary for Channel 9, Aussie legend Ian Thorpe described the situation as 'horrible'. Thorpe was gobsmacked that there was no rope that usually comes down at the 15m mark to notify swimmers if there's been a false start.

“They’ve got to notify the athletes,” Thorpe said. “This is rubbish. They have to notify them. There should’ve been a drop. This is a false start at the 15m mark. So that all athletes knew. There is a huge disadvantage to those that have continued.”

After the race Thorpe added: "I thought it was a horrible thing that happened. Unfortunately in sport it isn't who deserves it the most. Sport often isn't fair. We try and make it as fair as possible for everyone, whether that's our rules around doping or our rules around a situation like this."

Isaac Cooper, Ryan Murphy and Kacper Stokowski, pictured here with their medals at the short course world swimming championships.
Isaac Cooper, Ryan Murphy and Kacper Stokowski pose with their medals at the short course world swimming championships. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Aussie champion Ariarne Titmus said she'd never seen anything like it. “There should’ve been a 15m rope that goes down when there is a false start … so that it stops the boys from swimming the rest of the race," she said on Channel 9.

“These guys are pure sprinters, 50m swimmers. So to ask them to get up and go again, straight away, is not fair. Isaac has been vocal in the fact that after a 50 or 100m effort he can feel quite sick and even vomit. He’s technically just become world champion and now has to do this race again.

“I would be pretty upset. He has just done a PB, technically looked at the scoreboard and thought he’s become world champion then he hears no crowd. I have never seen this happen before. The reason this has happened is because no rope went down. Where you surface at the 15m mark, there should have been that rope to stop the boys from completing the race.”

Thankfully for Australia it wasn't all bad news on Friday night, with Lani Pallister becoming the first female athlete to win three freestyle gold medals at a short course world championships. Pallister won her fourth gold of the event after adding the 1500m title to her haul.

with AAP

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