Earlier this year, Zac Stubblety-Cook became the Commonwealth champion at this summer’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke and the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay alongside his Australian teammates Kaylee McKeown, Matthew Temple and Emma McKeon, and he won Silver in the Men’s 100m Breaststroke and Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay. At the World Championships in Budapest, Zac won Gold in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke and the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay, and at the 2022 Australian Swimming Championships, he broke the World Record and became the Australian champion. At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Zac was selected to represent Australia and became the Olympic champion and the Olympic Record holder in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke, also coming away with the Bronze medal in the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay. Zac won his first international medal at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in 2018, where he won Silver in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke, and as a junior, at just 13 years, he broke the Australian Record Age in the 100m Breaststroke, which hasn’t since been beaten. Chatting to Zac, he told us about competing at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, being selected for the Australian team at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and becoming champion at the Commonwealth Games, World Championships, Australian Championships and the Olympic Games over the last 12 months.
You had a successful Commonwealth Games this year in Birmingham, coming away as Commonwealth champion in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke and the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay alongside Kaylee McKeown, Matthew Temple and Emma McKeon, how did this feel?
It was a dream come true, to be honest, it is something that I take great pride in especially considering I didn’t make the final four years ago at a home Commonwealth Games. Swimming amongst such a successful team is truly special.
What were the Men’s 100m Breaststroke and the Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay like to compete in, where you won Silver in both?
I mean, the 100m Breaststroke was a bit of a shock, to swim amongst the greatest 100m breaststroker was special and something which I don’t think I have done before. But then to share the podium in the 100m Breaststroke with one of my best mates Sam Williamson was a feeling beyond words.
How was the experience at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and what was it like staying in the athletes village alongside your Australian teammates?
It is always special being able to share the village with other sports and athletes, it lifts the sense of occasion. It is rare because we might come across each other training but rarely competing together.
What did you enjoy most about competing at the Commonwealth Games after making your debut at your home games in 2018 at the Gold Coast?
In 2018, the home crowd was something really special and I was able to see so many teammates achieve and realise their dreams.
This year also saw you win Gold in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke and Silver in the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay at the World Championships in Budapest, what were the Championships like to compete at?
World Championships is a special event to my heart. To be able to come away with a Gold and a Silver was a very unique experience, especially in the year I have had. It has been a whirlwind of a 12 months from Olympics through until the Commonwealth Games.
How did you prepare for the World Championships and how do you stay focused in the lead-up to your races?
Enjoy myself, stick to a schedule and follow the repeated process. It’s as simple as that.
Can you tell us about competing at the 2022 Australian Swimming Championships, where you came away with a World Record and became Australian champion?
This was not something I was expecting, I was expecting maybe a 2:07:00 or a bit faster. I think coming off the Olympics and the pressure that comes with the entire Olympic campaign, you realise that during a year like this one, there is less pressure and more enjoyment. I swam with intent and freedom, I wasn’t afraid I swam to my ability, I enjoyed myself and this ultimately lead to me getting the best out of myself. A moment in time that I will cherish forever.
You were selected to represent Australia at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games last year, what was it like hearing you’d made the team?
It was step one to the dream of making an Olympic final coming true. It was exciting and nerve numbing, overwhelming in a way. I had really special people around me who guided me to getting the best out of myself.
What was it like making your Olympic debut during the pandemic and becoming Olympic champion in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke, which also saw you break the Olympic Record?
Words cannot describe this feeling, it was pure, freeing, and relieving all at once. The feeling is incomprehensible. I went there to do my best and that is all. The execution was special, I had pressure but I revelled in that moment as I was happy, content and ready to go.
You also came away with a Bronze medal in the Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay, how different do you find competing in relays to individual?
It was very different to competing as an individual. Firstly, you had everyone else’s nerves and the way they deal with them, which was unique and fun. Then you had the different component that was you wanted to do your best, not just for yourself, but for your country and you realise what the emblem means and why it is so significant.
What do you remember most from winning your first international medal at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, where you won Silver in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke?
It was part of the journey; it was part of the process. It was significant because after a poor performance a few months earlier, I proved to myself I could turn it around and turn it around quickly. This was the first step into the journey to the goal to do my best at the Olympics.
Can you say about some of your other stand-out highlights from your swimming career so far as a senior and junior?
As a senior, it would have to be breaking the World Record, then being able to see my family in the stands knowing how much they have been a part of my swimming career.
As a junior, I have a lot of fond memories, one being 2012/13 when I was 13 breaking the Australian Record Age in the 100m Breaststroke. I remember this fondly because I was idolising a family friend at the time, who was also a breaststroker. I had just moved clubs, and it was the beginning of my formative years and something that I will cherish forever (record still stands 1:05:88).
Where does your love of swimming come from and how did you start?
It wasn’t something I loved as a kid, I fell in love with it because I realised that all my friends swam. I then, in my early years, enjoyed the competitive side, and as I matured, I enjoyed the training side, the challenge of trying to get the best out of yourself. I still chase the perfect process.
Have you been given any advice over your swimming career so far that has stuck with you?
You are a person before you are an athlete. This is critical to me.
What is a typical training day for you and can you tell us about training with Vince Raleigh at the Chandler Aquatic Centre?
A typical training day is: arrive on deck 6am, swim through until 8:30am and home to rest, recover, fuel and then back to the pool at 3pm through until about 6:30pm. Rinse and repeat.
Do you have any competitions coming up that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
Not that many. I have our state Long Course Championships coming up in December, this is the racing after the next block.
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