It stung, but he managed to channel his frustration in the right way. When he woke up the next day, he blasted a mid-48s relay split to power the Australian 4x100m freestyle quartet into the final as the quickest seed.
“It got me fired up. My mixed relay lead wasn’t the greatest time I’ve ever done. It was my first race here, massive crowd, I’m only 17, so it’s also an experience whether the results are good or bad,” Southam said.
“But I just trusted myself and my ability. Good times. With a disappointing time like that, you can’t get too down about it, which I was a bit. But I woke up determined to get our team the fastest seed into the final. Hopefully we can go on and kick some butt.”
Southam’s fresh arrival on the scene and the glut of talent in Australian swimming has allowed him to enjoy a luxuriously low profile. But that won’t last once he begins to strip time off his personal bests and start to set his sights on Chalmers, the 2016 Olympic champion and Tokyo silver medallist.
For all the depth in the women’s sprinting stocks, the Australian men’s remains thin, with Chalmers out on his own ahead of a group of swimmers who are well off the kind of times that would put them in and around an Olympic final.
Southam has a personal best of 48.60 but already Popovici, at the same age, has a blistering 47.13 on the books. But Olympic medals are n’t handed out between Games’ cycles, so time is on his side as he tries to join the rush for medals in Paris in 2024.
News, results and expert analysis from the weekend of sport sent every Monday. Sign up for our Sport newsletter.