BUDAPEST – Elation, devastation, relief and shock.
United States swimmer Justin Ress went through all the emotions after winning his first individual gold medal on the last day of racing at the world swimming championships on Saturday.
As quick as he won the men’s 50-meter backstroke final — 24.12 seconds — it seemed to him the medal was taken away just as quickly.
Ress finished two-hundredths of a second in front of teammate Hunter Armstrong but was disqualified for allegedly being submerged at the finish.
Armstrong was awarded gold, the 17-year-old Ksawery Masiuk of Poland was bumped up to silver and Italy star Thomas Ceccon handed the bronze.
Armstrong — who set the world record of 23.71 at team trials in April — wiped tears away after the medal ceremony. It was his first individual gold medal at these championships.
Meanwhile, Ress was still in shock, trying to comprehend why he was stripped of the gold.
Only after all the other races were completed did FINA announce that the disqualification was overturned. There was no explanation, no words of contrition for Ress.
Coming through a lonely mixed zone with his gold medal hanging over his chest afterward, Ress still seemed to be overwhelmed by the drama of his last day at the worlds.
“It was shock the whole time,” Ress said of his initial reaction to being disqualified. “Twenty minutes I was just in the chair in the team room, just paralyzed, shocked I got DQ'ed. And then, obviously the overturns rarely happen, so I pretty much lost all hope.”
U.S. team manager Lindsay Mintenko hadn’t lost hope, however, and she pushed officials to review their decision. The officials showed her frame-by-frame footage of Ress’ finish to back up their case.
“There’s no reason for officials if you’re going to look at a frame-by-frame review of the DQ. That finish was definitely my best finish of the meet,” Ress said.
Eventually, it seems, the officials agreed.
“When they told me it got overturned, it was 20 more minutes of shock that it had been overturned,” Ress said. “But then, you know, on top of that, there’s just all this sadness, anger and, I think that’s probably the worst possible way a race could go.”
Ress said if he had finished eighth he would have been “bummed” that he didn’t get a medal or perform as well as he could have.
“But I’ve learned that it’s not about the results, it’s about the journey. But when it goes down like that, you know, winning, you think you’ve won for a couple of minutes, and then see the DQ, it’s just devastating,” Ress said.
The confusion put his whole offseason “into a nice little bow tie.” Last December, Ress mulled retiring from swimming before he moved from North Carolina to California.
“I knew if I wanted to keep swimming, I had to make a move,” he said.
That move evidently paid off with his first individual world title, eventually.
“I think a FINA official told me this is the first time it ever happened,” Ress said, referring to the event’s slogan. “They have the words ‘make history’ everywhere. So I guess I made history.”
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