It was not really sinking in yet, immediately after the "race of his life": Pieter Timmers talked calmly to the excited Belgian reporters. "I knew there was a small chance if I had a top race, but you never know. This is what I trained for for 4 years. (...) I still can't believe it. Coming second is just unreal."
The 28-year-old Antwerp resident will stop his career as a top athlete next year and will start picking up a "normal life" after the Games. It was now or never. Despite this, he was very relaxed before the start, smiling when he had walked to the wrong lane at the presentation. Timmers took a good start, which was a good sign - he is a slow starter. He turned in 5th position, but the best was yet to come.
"After 75 metres, I saw he was reaching out for a medal. If only he could keep up the pace. But I was confident: he is a strong finisher", the Belgian swimming coach Ronald Gaastra said. "He was very relaxed, and mentally very strong."
Timmers eventually set a time of 47.80 seconds, well below his previous Belgian record, edging the defending Olympic champion Nathan Adrian of the United States, who had to be content with the bronze (47.85). The new Olympic champion is the 18-year-old wonder Kyle Chalmers of Australia, who was still trailing 7th at the turn before storming through to touch first in 47.58.
3 medals after just 5 days is an unexpected success for a small country like Belgium, and there could be more to come. Timmers' silver is also the first Olympic swimming medal for Belgium in 20 years, after Frederik Deburghgraeve won the men's breaststroke at Atlanta 1996.