Only Room for One Campbell

Image Source: Australian Olympian Bronte Campbell is projected onto the Sydney Opera House (Don Arnold/Getty Images)

As Bronte Campbell booked her spot for a fourth Olympic Games at last week’s Australian Olympic Trials it was double heartbreak for sister Cate Campbell who fell short in her bid to race at a fifth career Olympics. The 32-year-old was always going to be a longshot for an individual swim in Paris, however with the top six swimmers in the 100m Freestyle earning a relay berth, where there’s a will, there’s often a way.

And since returning to the competition pool in 2023, Campbell had found that way, and was consistently posting times on par with Swimming Australia’s strict qualifying standard. A 53.26 at the Berlin leg of the World Cup in October 2023 was followed by a 53.23 at the Queensland Championships in December – two times that if replicated last week would have earned Campbell a spot on the Paris team.

However the veteran didn’t even get the chance to try. Without semi-finals at the Australian Olympic Trials, it was all-or-nothing in the heats, and despite being the second fastest of the seventy heat swimmers at the turn, Campbell fatigued over the last ten metres to finish ninth – just 0.01 off a finals berth. Sister Bronte, who finished fourth in the final to book her place on the team, paid homage to her older sister after the 100m Freestyle final.

“I felt devastated for my sister this morning, but she is absolutely incredible. I mean she held this individual spot in the 100m (Freestyle) for eleven years. I think that’s got to be a record in Australia - it’s such a hard thing to do,” said Bronte Campbell.

“I just really want to pay homage to what an incredible athlete she is. I know she made me a better swimmer and I know these girls would have grown up watching her swim, and so even though she wasn’t with us in the pool tonight, I think she’s still a huge part of our success.”

Campbell’s final chance to make the team was the 50m Freestyle on the final night of racing, an event she holds the Australian Record in, but also an event where only the top two swimmers would earn a start in Paris. And despite starting well and holding early speed, it was the next generation of sprinters Shayna Jack and Meg Harris that would earn the right to race the one lap sprint in six weeks’ time.

As Campbell looked up at the scoreboard and the reality that this was the end of the road sank in, fellow veteran Emma McKeon wrapped her arms around the four-time Olympic gold medallist. A wave to the crowd, was followed by tears, and then an embrace by sister Bronte who was also overcome with emotion. And then Shayna Jack made her way to lane seven to hug Campbell, and then Meg Harris who was part of the Tokyo gold medal winning 4 x 100m Freestyle relay team, then Alexandra Perkins, then Mollie O’Callaghan, with the final embrace fittingly coming from Olivia Wunsch who was just two years-old when Campbell made her first Olympics appearance at Beijing 2008.

It was a scene that was unlike the end of any final before at an Australian Olympic Trials – signifying the remarkable respect held for the country’s all-time fastest woman. Speaking to two-time Olympian Giann Rooney after the final, whose voice was also wavering with emotion, Campbell said that while it was bittersweet not to make the Paris team, the Brisbane Aquatic Centre was a fitting place to finish her career.

“I made my first Australian team when I was 15 years-old, made my first Olympics when I was 16, and now I’m 32 and just had one of my favourite moments in the pool,” said Cate Campbell.

“I started swimming at this pool… I have so many incredible memories here, and I want to thank everyone for being here to make this moment so special. It is bittersweet, it’s not the fairytale ending that I had hoped for, that I had worked so hard for. The mind was willing, but the body was a little bit lacking, but that’s sport and why we love it so much.”

“That moment with the girls in the water just before was so incredibly special, and I’m just so thankful for every single person who I’ve met along this incredible journey.”

Olympics in the Genes

Image Source: Emma McKeon competes in the Women's 50 Metre Freestyle during the 2024 Australian Swimming Trials (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The Dolphins squad for Paris 2024 is a family affair with a record four children of former Olympians on the plane to race in the French capital.

Emma McKeon will surpass father Ron McKeon’s two Olympics appearances in Paris as she heads to her third games and aims to add to her tally of eleven Olympic medals. Joining McKeon on the Dolphins team will be Lani Pallister who will make her Olympic debut thirty-six years after mother Janelle Pallister (nee Elford) raced the 400m & 800m Freestyle double at Seoul 1988. Pallister trained under her mother at the Sunshine Coast based Cotton Tree club in Queensland before both coach and swimmer made the move to coach Michael Bohl’s program at Griffith University in early 2020.

“Every day for the past three years, me and my Mum talked about it and talked about the experience she had in 1988, so just getting an opportunity to experience something that she did too is just exciting,” said Pallister after qualifying for her first Olympic Games.

Image Source: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Ella Ramsay is also following in family footsteps as she transitions from being a top junior swimmer to now being a member of the Australian Dolphins team. Three years-ago Ramsay put the swimming world on notice when she won ten titles as the Australian Age Championships. At the Brisbane Aquatic Centre this week she enjoyed a breakout trials that earned the 19 year-old at least three individual starts in Paris. Ramsay clocked new personal bests and qualifying times in the 200m Breaststroke, 200m Individual Medley, and 400m Individual Medley, and may also get a start in the 100m Breaststroke after again swimming under the 1:07 mark. Like Pallister she started her swimming career training under her father Heath Ramsay who represented Australia at Sydney 2000 in the 200m Butterfly.

“My dad and I are really competitive so it will give me bragging rights if I go to Paris with more events than he did in Sydney… I hope he is proud of me,” said Ramsay after booking her spot on the Paris team.

Image Source: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Kai Taylor will aim to continue the legacy of his mother Hayley Lewis in Paris with Lewis having represented Australia at Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, and Sydney 2000. Taylor already became the first son of a female Australian swimmer to compete at a world championships at Fukuoka 2023, and in Paris some further history beckons as he aims to join his mother as the first Australian parent-child Olympic medallists. Taylor missed individual event qualification but is expected to race both the 4 x 100m Freestyle and 4 x 200m Freestyle relay events in Paris.

No ‘Golden Thing’ as Simpson’s Journey Ends

Image Source: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

The high-profile journey of pop-star-turned-swimmer Cody Simpson has come to an end after the 27 year-old missed the cut for Olympic selection. Simpson was aiming to complete what has already been a remarkable return to the sport by qualifying for the Paris Olympics in either the 100m Freestyle or 100m Butterfly.

With no semi-finals, and 105 swimmers racing for a spot in the night session, Simpson narrowly missed the 100m Freestyle final by just 0.14 seconds. In a cruel twist of fate Simpson then lined up in the ‘B Final’ and posted a career-best 48.67 - a time that if swum in the ‘A Final’ would have earned a relay spot in Paris.

Simpson’s second route to the French capital was always going to be more difficult. In the 100m Butterfly he needed to not only finish in the top two, but also needed to swim half a second faster than his career-best of 51.67 to meet the Swimming Australia qualifying standard. Not leaving anything to chance in the heats Simpson clocked 51.78 to swim through fifth, clocking a near identical 51.79 in the final to again finish in fifth.

Image Source: Cody Simpson speaks with coach Michael Bohl during the 2024 Australian Open Swimming Championships (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Speaking after the final Simpson reflected on what had been a whirlwind return to his junior sport in his mid-twenties.

“I’m proud of myself, I knew it was going to be a tight one tonight and I was going to have to pull something out of myself, but I was very close to my best swim so all you can do is all you can do, which is a saying I quite like, because what else can you do,” said Simpson.

“It’s been an amazing four-year journey. Having the privilege of swimming for Australia, and winning medals internationally with the men’s relays, and placing at World Cups; it’s just been absolutely unbelievable. I gave it everything I had this week, and sometimes, that’s all you can do.”

“I remember in 2022, everyone was like ‘what are you doing - this is absolutely impossible!’ But I just wanted to see what I could get out of myself, and I think I’ve been able to fulfil those curiosities and desires that I had in the pool, and I’ve learnt so much and grown so much.”

Simpson hangs up his racing suit as Australian Dolphin #838 and as a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

It’s Rio 2.0 for McEvoy & Chalmers

Image Source: Kyle Chalmers competes in the Men's 100m Freestyle Final during the 2024 Australian Swimming Trials (Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

For all that has changed in the swimming world over the past eight years it appears that some things, namely Australia’s male freestyle sprinters, remain the same. At Rio 2016 a relatively unknown Australia eighteen year-old named Kyle Chalmers burst onto the scene to win the Olympic gold medal in the Men’s 100m Freestyle. It was a swim that overshadowed his teammate Cameron McEvoy who was still the nation’s best performer in the 50m Freestyle in Rio, but unable to replicate his teammate’s medal-winning success. Eight years on and both Chalmers and McEvoy will head to Paris as Australia’s top qualifiers in the 100m Freestyle and 50m Freestyle respectively.

Chalmers will be out to avenge his Tokyo 2020 silver medal where his career-best time of 47.08 in the final was only enough for silver. Since that 100m Freestyle in Tokyo Chalmers has become the short course world champion at Melbourne 2022, the long course world champion at Fukuoka 2023, and even a Commonwealth Games champion, and will be out to complete the redemption arc by adding dual-Olympic champion in Paris to that list.

Image Source: Cameron McEvoy competes in the Men's 50m Freestyle heats at the World Aquatics Championships - Doha 2024 (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

For McEvoy it has been a significantly different route. The now 30 year-old didn’t even progress out of the 50m Freestyle heats in Tokyo finishing 29th with a 22.31. He took a break, put on 20kg, and changed his training routine with alternate methods and ideas primarily driven from his own learnings. He then turned up at Fukuoka 2023 to post a 21.06, the fourth-fastest swim of all-time, and become Australia’s first male world champion in the 50m Freestyle. He will now head to Paris with the aim of becoming Australia’s first Olympic champion in the 50m Freestyle.

“Eighteen months-ago my goal was to just come back, give this new training approach a go, and see what happens… what I’ve done so far has just obliterated any expectations I had,” McEvoy said after booking his ticket to Paris.