Headed into the 2016 Olympic Games, Australian sprint star Cate Campbell was widely regarded as the gold medal favorite in both the women’s individual 50m and 100m freestyle events. In a perfect world, Campbell would have claimed her gold prizes, followed-up with an encore performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games to be held in her home state of Gold Coast, Australia, and the then-26-year-old would happily retire.
But, Campbell’s outcome in Rio wasn’t quite what she expected, leading the Commercial Club athlete to reevaluate her swimming future plans.
Having broken the 100m freestyle World Record just a month prior to the Games and following that up with an Olympic Record in heats of the same event, it seemed a given that ‘C1’ would stand atop the podium come the final in Rio.
But, when all was said and done, Campbell raced away with just two relay medals to her name instead of individual hardware. Still impressive, Campbell scored the swiftest split of the field (51.97) to help carry the Aussies to gold in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay, while also nailing a 52.17 split to earn silver as part of the 4×100 medley relay.
In the individual events, however, C1 faltered, finishing 5th in the 50 free (24.15) and 6th in the 100 (53.24), well-off her recent personal bests of 23.84 and 52.06 (WR), respectively. Aussie Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren commented post-race that the disappointing outcomes “can really only put it to nerves and nothing else.”
On her lackluster (by her standards) performance individually, C1 stated to Yahoo Australia that “The nerves were overwhelming. I couldn’t eat, sleep … My lifetime dream was within touching distance (and) I couldn’t let it go.”
“It’s hard when you’ve worked your whole life towards an opportunity and people were talking about they’d almost gift wrapped that gold medal for me,” she continued. “I stood on the blocks and didn’t perform. That’s probably the worst part – I’m most disappointed in myself.”
As such, Campbell says she ‘can’t leave her Olympic campaign like this.’ She says, “I want to leave with happy tears. You’re going to have to lock me in for 2020.”
In 2020, Campbell will be 28 years old and entering what would be her 4th Olympic Games. Considering swimmers of all ages are now claiming medals, including Americans Anthony Ervin at 35 and David Plummer at 30, as well as Japan’s Rie Kaneto at 27, it’s certainly possible Campbell may find herself as the favorite once again once Tokyo rolls around.