Australia’s oldest Olympic swimming champion plots a serious bid for her fifth Olympics in Paris while taking time to say goodbye after her last World Aquatics Swimming World Cup tour.
More than 15 years since Cate Campbell stepped up to the top of the Olympic podium, the Australian is once again a major player in the global swimming sprint game.
Coming back to the top of sport after a lengthy layover away from the pool, World Aquatics caught up with the 12-time World Championship medallist and four-time Olympic champion for what the 31-year-old says is her final year of chasing top performances in the pool.
As Part II of a two-part series, you can see what Campbell had to say in Part I here.
How important was taking time off from swimming?
If I had not been able to take the time off, I think I would have retired. It wasn’t that I had fallen out of love with the sport, I just felt that I needed a break. Physically, mentally preparing for Tokyo was my toughest Olympic campaign. The added (Covid) year did not do me any favours. It was really a grind to get there. While I didn't think I was finished with the sport, I wasn’t ready to go back into the daily grind, the relentless monotony of training and the very high expectations that Australians have on their swimmers, and also for the high expectations that I have on myself.
How did you know how much time you needed?
I didn't know, I knew that it was going to be a tight turnaround and that I wanted to try things outside of sport. I worked for Deloitte Australia in an office for four months. Then my partner told me that he wanted to travel, and while I might have gotten back into the pool sooner, It was something that he really wanted us to do. He’s made a lot of sacrifices for me and my career. When I go away for work it can be to Berlin or Athens or Budapest. But when he goes away for work it's not quite as exotic. We felt it was the only time in our lives that we could do it. We travelled around Europe last summer, visiting 56 cities in Europe in six months. I kept up with my anti-doping whereabouts the entire time. The thought of doing nothing for 6 months freaked me out but it was the best decision we had made and it was so much fun.t
How did you know that 18 months of training for Australia Trials and Paris would be enough time?
I knew that I needed to give myself 18 months of training if I wanted to be in shape for Trials and for Paris. I started back in January of this year. It wasn't scientifically based, it was what I thought I would need. And I guess we will find out next year whether I have given myself enough time or whether it was a good idea. But I will say the time off will have kept me in the sport and hohpefully will allow me to go to my fifth Olympic Games.
How important is it to take time off?
I think we as a sport are afraid of giving our athletes time off. We are really afraid of what rest will do, or de-training. I am almost looking at this as a bit of a science experiment. I am working with some really good coaches and sports scientists to figure out the best way to retrain your body to get it back to the loads that a swimmer is used to. I didn't get into the pool or the gym or exercise so it would retrain my body after doing nothing. I quite literally walked around Europe for 6 months eating baguettes and cheese.
Retaining your body to be under the immense training load that swimmers are under has been a really interesting process. But I am at peace either way with whatever happens. It was really important to try this, but I am content with the career that I have had so far. My mind is in a really good place, and that's also when you perform at your best.
Why did you decide to travel to Europe for three Swimming World Cup events this year?
For me, it's good to get racing practice again, because I have been out of the game for a little while, so to come and race internationally is important. It's good to get racing practice again and to come and race internationally is important. And for me, I am getting to say goodbye to the sport which is really special. I am getting to say goodbye to the people and the places that have been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. I felt it was an important preparation for Paris. Mentally to be able to come and to enjoy this time is really important. But this is the last time I will race in Budapest. It's scary but sad but it helps me savour every moment.
What are your reactions to the Australia success in Fukuoka?
Watching the team perform in Fukuoka was immense and seeing what they did. I know there has been a lot of contention about which was the better team, but I think that with five World Records, topping the gold medal tally, Australia was on top of the world. There must be something in the waters there because they did it in 2001. It made me really proud to look at the legacy of this team which I have been a part of for so long.
It was much more relaxing sitting on the couch and it was really enjoyable. I understand why people enjoy watching swimming.
Are you looking forward to racing at Australia’s Olympic Trials?
It will definitely be my last Trials, and I am not sure if I will be looking forward to it or dreading is the right word. The Australian trials will always be the most nerve-wracking event on the calendar. The women's 100m freestyle is by far the toughest event. To qualify for the Australian swim team you have to be amongst the best in the world. It will be harder to qualify for our national final than to qualify for the Olympic final.
How important is it to be on the Swimming World Cup circuit with your sister Bronte?
It's been really special to share this experience with Bronte. It will definitely be my last Australian Olympic Trials and I am pretty sure this will be her last Australian trials as well. We are approaching Paris slightly differently as we are not training together. She is training down in Canberra and I am training up in Brisbane. We have different coaches, and we have different approaches. It makes coming together at places like this at places like this extra special.
Finish this sentence, "Cate Campbell is……"
Happy to be swimming and looking forward to being done!
CATE CAMPBELL MILESTONES
THE CAMPBELL FAMILY
Cate is the oldest of five siblings born in Malawi to South African parents, Eric, an accountant, and Jenny, a registered nurse. Her parents had been working and traveling through Europe and the USA but were drawn to work in Malawi when Eric was offered a two-year contract for accountancy firm KPMG.
Malawi is known as "the warm heart of Africa,” situated in the southern region of the continent. It is a much sought destination with a British past best known for its stunning lake, its friendly people and fascinating but less traveled wildlife experiences.
Eric and Jenny stayed for 10 years where four of the five children were born and raised. Cate’s four younger siblings are three sisters Olympic teammate Bronte, Jessica, Abigail and brother Hamish who was born with cerebral palsy and requires round the clock care. In 2001 they moved to Australia when Jenny was seven months pregnant with her youngest child Abigail.
They gave their kids a life unimaginable to most Australians. The Campbells left with wonderful memories and a down-to-earth perspective on life.“You get a big sense of perspective coming from Malawi when you see what poverty is like,” said Cate’s younger sister Bronte.
Cate was taught to swim in Lake Malawi by her mother Jenny, a former synchronized swimmer. The Campbell sisters took up competitive swimming after the family moved to Brisbane in 2001. Cate attributes her motivation to the time when Bronte beat her at a swimming carnival when she was 9 years old. Cate says that her Olympic dreams materialized while watching Australia’s Jodie Henry win the 100m freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
At the 2007 Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney, Campbell came away with two gold medals from swims in the 50m freestyle and as a member of the 400m freestyle relay. The next year she swam at the Japan Open, winning the 50m freestyle setting new Australian and Commonwealth records.
BEIJING 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES
She was 15 years old when she qualified for her first Olympics at the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre in the pool that hosted the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Campbell finished second behind Libby Trickett in the 50 and 100m freestyle at the Australian Trials. At her first Olympics in 2008, Cate won bronze medals in the 50m freestyle ahead of fourth place Trickett but finished 10th in the 100m freestyle. Campbell led off the 4 x 100m freestyle relay team that was anchored by teammate Trickett that earned a bronze medal for Australia. Campbell was 16 when she returned from her Olympic debut at Beijing 2008 with two bronze medals.
LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES
Cate was a member of the team that won gold and set an Olympic record in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay in 2012. In the 50m freestyle she finished 13th in the 50m freestyle behind younger sister Bronte who placed 10th in her first Olympic Games.
RIO 2016 OLYMPICS
In the 50m freestyle Cate and Bronte both finished off the podium in fifth and seventh places. Bronte was fourth in the 100m freestyle ahead of Cate’s sixth place in a disappointing Olympics for the Campbell sisters in their individual events. Australia’s 4x100m freestyle relay led from start to finish setting a world record in an Olympic gold medal performance that included Bronte swimming third and Cate in the anchor leg. In the 4x100m medley relay Campbell swam the fastest anchor leg of the field, 026 seconds faster than Simone Manuel (USA), the gold medallist in the 100m freestyle. Australia earned only a silver medal finishing almost 2 seconds behind the USA.
TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS
Campbell qualified for her 4th Olympics, the Covid-19 delayed Tokyo 2020, becoming the third Australian swimmer to do so. She was one of two flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony with the distinction of being the first Australian female swimmer. Bronte led off the 4x100m freestyle relay that was anchored by Cate setting a new world record; Cate won her third consecutive Olympic gold medal in this event. Individually Cate earned a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle. On the final day of the Olympics she finished 7th in the 50m freestyle. About 30 minutes later Cate anchored Australia’s Olympic gold medal winning 4x100m medley relay earning her fourth career Olympic gold medal in an Australian relay.
THE CAMPBELL SISTERS
The Campbell sisters have 141 international medals between them.
Both were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia: Cate in 2014 and Bronte in 2017 for their achievements in swimming. They are the first sisters in Australia swimming history to compete in the same event at an Olympic Games, in the 50m freestyle. Cate says that her favourite race was the 50m freestyle at the 2012 Olympic trials when Bronte swam her way onto the Australian team by placing second to Cate. “I’m so fiercely proud of Bronte for clawing her way through and sticking at it and for not becoming disillusioned with the sport or frustrated or resentful of me,” Cate said. “I don’t think I’d be a swimmer if Bronte had not come along and pushed me into it. I think that we bring out the best in each other in the pool and out of the pool.” They published a book in 2021: Sister Secrets: life lessons from the pool to the podium. It is a must read for young adults which is nevertheless upfront in its discussion of body shaming and the treatment of female swimmers.
QUOTABLE CATE CAMPBELL
"I never feel more alive than when I am standing behind the starting blocks."
"Don’t focus on the destination too much, enjoy the journey because it’s one hell of a ride."