Bronze for Brendon in Olympic debut

From the shadows of relative obscurity, La Trobe University student Brendon Smith has become Australia’s newest overnight swimming star.

The 21-year-old La Trobe Elite Athlete Program (LEAP) member, who studies a Bachelor of Business (Accounting and Finance) at La Trobe, claimed a bronze medal in the Men’s 400m Individual Medley final at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo on Sunday.

Smith qualified fastest for the final by breaking the Australian record for the 400m IM in the semi final, but looked to be out of medal contention with 50 metres to go until a barnstorming final freestyle leg catapulted him into third behind United States duo Chase Kalisz (first) and Jay Litherland (second).

Smith’s bronze medal was Australia’s first for the Tokyo Games. Perhaps more astonishingly, it was also Australia's first medal in the Men's 400m IM in 37 years and just the second in Australian Olympic history.

The result caps a meteoric rise for Smith, who by his own admission 12 months ago was unsure that he would make it on the plane to Tokyo.

“Unbelievable. I can’t believe it,” Smith told Channel 7 after the race.

“Twelve months ago when the Games were cancelled or postponed, I thought ‘Give me another opportunity, another year to better my preparation from last time’. To improve that much and to be able to get on the podium is incredible.”

Smith’s bronze medal performance also earned the praise of Australian swimming legends Ian Thorpe and Leisel Jones, who watched on as part of the Channel 7 commentary team.

“This is exceptional,” Thorpe said on Seven’s coverage immediately after the race.

“For a young man like this coming into an Olympic Games, being the first international competition that you swim at and to go in with the pressure, the expectation of being the fastest qualifier, it adds that whole new dimension to the pressure that you’re going to be under and that you put yourself into being able to perform.”

“That is such an impressive swim,” Jones added.

“I am so proud of Brendon. No one can underestimate the amount of pressure that these athletes are under and I think he performed really well.”

Smith has been a member of La Trobe’s Elite Athlete Program since 2019 and is a current TechnologyOne High Performance Sport Scholarship holder. As recently as May this year, he represented Team La Trobe at the UniSport Australia Swimming Nationals in Sydney and claimed gold (and broke the UniSport Australia record) in the Men’s 400m IM event.

Smith also claimed a silver medal in the Men’s 400m Freestyle, while his sisters Mikayla and Reidel (both LEAP members and national-level swimmers in their own right) also experienced success at the UniSport Australia Swimming Nationals meet. Older sister Mikayla won gold in both the Women’s 200m and 100m Breaststroke and claimed silver in the 50m Breaststroke, while younger sister Reidel secured silver in the 200m Breaststroke.

Smith has previously credited his time as part of the LEAP program as a major factor in being able to successfully balance both his sporting and academic pursuits.

“I study a Bachelor of Business at La Trobe because it helps me get into something I want to be or do after I graduate at La Trobe and eventually finish swimming,” Smith said earlier this year.

“I wanted to pick La Trobe because of the Elite Athlete Program. My sister (Mikayla) is older than me and she had been through it and said only good things.

“Some of the advantages of being with the Elite Athlete Program are when you’re under the pump with swimming or whatever your sport is you have someone to lean back on and help you and assist you with anything you need, school or swimming-related.”

Smith will now turn his attention to qualifying for the final of the Men’s 200m IM and look to secure another podium finish.

Smith is one of four LEAP members that will be representing Australia at the Tokyo Games over the next fortnight, along with Amy Lawton (Hockey, Bachelor of Prosthetics and Orthotics - Honours), Caitlin Parker (Boxing, Diploma of Sports Coaching & Development – Carlton College of Sport) and Mack Horton (Swimming, Bachelor of Applied Business – Didasko).

You can find the competition times of our LEAP athletes and follow them on their Olympic Games journey via the La Trobe Sport website.