Kyle Chalmers touched the wall, popped up his head to check the results, then stood up and brought his index finger to his lips.
The Australian had just won the men’s 100m freestyle, a Commonwealth Games gold six years in the making – his first at a major international event since becoming Olympic champion at Rio 2016.
And after a week of unfounded speculation and relentless questions about his private life, his time of 47.51 seconds symbolically silenced all the unwelcome attention.
“I thought about it before,” Chalmers told the Seven Network after the race, in which England’s Tom Dean and Scotland’s Duncan Scott won silver and bronze respectively.
“Normally I do a bit more powerful celebration after a win but that one was one that probably means more than giving a fist bump or flexing the muscles.
“It is special to win, but unfortunately I think it is hard to enjoy the moment when all that has happened has gone on. It makes it a challenging time.
“I am grateful that I was able to block it out enough to stand up and win tonight. I hope this is a learning point for everybody, and I hope nobody else has to go through what I have gone through.”
On a day when table-toppers Australia again added to their already-bulging Birmingham medal tally, with Emma McKeon, Kaylee McKeown, Matthew Levy (swimming), Matthew Glaetzer (track cycling), Georgia Godwin (gymnastics), Ellen Ryan (lawn bowls) ) and Tinka Easton (judo) among the gold medalists, Chalmers said he was uncharacteristically emotional before the race.
“This last 48 hours has been hell, it has been an emotional rollercoaster,” he said. “I appreciate all the support that I have had. I would not have been able to get through [without] Item.
“Yesterday there were points where I thought I would not continue on. That just lets the media win. For me, I had to stand up and do it, not for myself but for everybody at home, everybody going through similar things. I hope I can inspire and I will continue this conversation.”
Also at the pool, McKeown cruised to 200m backstroke victory to add to her 100m triumph, beating Kylie Masse and breaking the Canadian’s Commonwealth Games record in the process.
And Levy won gold in the men’s 50m freestyle S7 to bring down the curtain on an illustrious career featuring a string of Paralympic, world championship and Commonwealth Games gold medals.
“It is great to finish here and to back it up from four years ago,” Levy said. “I’ve had a very long career and it is great to continue that high standard throughout 20 years and I’m very proud of tonight and proud of my career.”
Meanwhile, Cody Simpson advanced to the men’s 100m butterfly final, qualifying fifth fastest with a third place in his semi-final.
“Pretty wild, pretty special,” Simpson said. “That was my goal, to make sure I got into the night. Just relieved that I am.”
At the velodrome, Glaetzer put two days of setbacks behind him to win the 1km time trial and equal Anna Meares’s Australian record of five Commonwealth Games cycling golds.
Meares said her former teammate’s performance in defending his four-lap title by edging Australian silver medalist Tom Cornish – a race he said was likely his last at a Commonwealth Games – made her emotional.
“When you consider he had a heavy fall in the keirin, then got relegated from the medals after winning the [sprint] bronze last night, and that he’s come back from thyroid cancer and his coach Gary West passed away from motor neurone disease, he’s had so many challenges,” Meares said.
In the gymnastics, Godwin won the individual vault to bring her haul to two gold medals and two silver, in a campaign that has almost single-handedly thrust gymnastics into the spotlight.
“I do my best to try and show that gymnastics is a safe sport and that everyone should feel safe doing gymnastics,” the 24-year-old said. “And we’re heading in the right direction, so that is really exciting to see.”