WATERWORX swim coach Paul Sansby may have stumbled upon a unique motivational tactic at the recent Queensland Championships in Brisbane.
But he will not be leaning on it for future success.
Young prodigy Mollie O'Callaghan had been on fire throughout the championships, flying to easy victories in the final of the 100m and 200m backstroke, and a narrow first in the 200m freestyle.
Ever the perfectionist, Sansby -affectionately known to his young swimmers as Cowboy -decided to raise the stakes for 13-year-old Mollie ahead of her 100m freestyle final.
"I said if you win the 100m free, I'll buy you a kitten,” Sansby recalled of his promise to Mollie.
Unfortunately, Mollie would hit the wall in fourth -just 0.3 seconds off the mark, or "by a cat's whisker” as Cowboy put it.
"Because she missed the cat in the 100m, we came to an agreement she had to medal in the 400m freestyle instead,” Sansby said.
Depending on where you sit, it was either a coincidence or coaching master class.
Mollie would romp through the heats and eventually finish third in the final, swimming a 17-second personal best time in the process.
"She did a 17-second PB to get a kitten, it was unbelievable,” Sansby said.
"It isn't her favoured event by any stretch of the imagination, we really only entered her in it to see how she'd go.
"(Mollie) didn't really know how to swim a 400, it was a little bit of, 'How fast do I go?'.
"But she did a great job in the heats, and ended up coming in third in the final.”
And thus at training, Sansby presented the half-siamese, half-ragdoll kitten to Mollie's bemused parents.
"Luckily for me it's now her problem, not mine,” Sansby joked.
"She has a cat, much to her mum and dad's delight.”
It capped a memorable championships for Mollie, who also rubbed shoulders with the likes of Emily Seebohm in the 100m open backstroke.
"She was 13 and racing against the top five or six national backstrokers,” Sansby said.
"(Through the heats) she ended up eighth in Queensland, but didn't get into the final because they took four (interstate) swimmers.
"I think the time she swam to win her age group 100m back would have gotten her a swim, there was just some nerves in the open swim.”
Irrespective of missing the final, Mollie showed she has the talent and temperament to match it with the best despite her age.
"It was a great experience, I think it did her good to realise they're not as big and scary as they first appear,” Sansby said.
"We expected her to do a really good job, since she'd been training so well. But she probably did even better than we expected.
"She got off to a roaring start, and just went on with the job from there.
"I'll admit (the kitten) was an expensive coaching tactic, but she had a pretty good week and did a really good job.”
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