Chad le Clos raised both hands to the heavens after seeing off American golden boy Caeleb Dressel to win the 100m butterfly at the short course World Swimming Championships on Thursday.
In one of the most eagerly anticipated duels in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, the South African star romped to victory in 48.50sec and a fourth consecutive title in the event.
He was 0.21sec ahead of rival Dressel, who at age 22 has drawn comparisons with US swim legend Michael Phelps.
Le Clos, who appeared close to tears as he towered atop the podium, conceded that Dressel was disadvantaged by racing in the 50m freestyle semi-finals beforehand, but said: “It was the biggest race of my short-course career.
“I was up against the best field by far and this was the main event of the whole week.
“I was anxious because I was waiting the whole day for this, the whole week and the past three months because I knew this one could come.”
Victory for Le Clos was some compensation for the disappointment that he suffered on Tuesday, the first day of competition, when the 26-year-old went under his own world-record time in the 200m butterfly but still came second to Japan’s Daiya Seto.
“After the first night people thought I was winded and I have always told them that is the biggest mistake they can make because after I have lost, I come back much stronger,” said Le Clos.
The other eye-catching individual performance of the night was by China’s rising star Wang Jianjiahe.
Just 16, the gifted teenager had the home crowd on its feet as she left the rest of the field behind to win the women’s 800m freestyle.
Lisa Bratton meanwhile grabbed a surprise gold in an American one-two in the women’s 200m backstroke as the United States stepped up their dominance in the 25m pool.
Bratton pipped Olympic gold medallist Kathleen Baker into second by just 0.08sec in a thrilling finish with Australia’s decorated Emily Seebohm taking bronze.
Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, who won three golds at the Rio 2016 Olympics and is the short-course world record-holder, was stunned into fourth and out of the medals.
Bratton’s nail-biting triumph in 2:00.71 took the United States’ growing gold medal haul in these championships to eight.
They grabbed a ninth with victory in the mixed 4x50m medley relay in world-record time.
In the men’s 200m breaststroke, Russia’s Kirill Prigoda blitzed his way to a new record time of 2:00.16, beating home swimmer Qin Haiyang into silver by nearly one second.