Australian world record-holder Cate Campbell penned an open letter this week, addressing “keyboard warriors” – or the fans and internet commenters critical of her swimming performances, specifically her showing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Campbell set a world record in the 100 free about a month before the Rio Olympics and was seen as a heavy favorite to win gold medals in the 50 and 100 freestyles. But the 24-year-old fell out of medal contention in the finals, finishing 5th in the 50 and 6th in the 100 in a performance she would later refer to as a “choke.”
Her performances brought some critical words from fans in swimming-crazed Australia, and Campbell framed her open letter this week as a direct conversation between herself and those critical commenters: “I think it’s time we talked – not face-to-face, because let’s not forget, you are faceless, while I very much am not – but at least directly to one another – no intermediaries. No journalists,” Campbell wrote.
Campbell talked about carrying the weight of a nation, about being viewed as a ‘sure bet’ and a tool for bragging rights rather than as a swimmer and a person.
“It would be another gold for the Australian medal tally, another reason to gloat to your Pommy friends, another reason to down that can of XXXX gold,” Campbell wrote. “But I was also just a person. And as it turns out, I wasn’t the sure bet. I wasn’t a contributor to Australia’s medal tally.”
She went on to recount her own emotions in that moment, heightened by the sense of disappointment she got from critical commenters:
“But I just want to let you know, that you could not possibly be more disappointed in me, than I was in myself.
You could not have been more ashamed of me than I was of myself. You could not possible have judged me harsher than I was (and to an extent still am) judging myself.
In saying that, I did feel your disappointment, I did feel your shame and I felt your judgement.
For future reference, when you see someone choking, it’s not because they don’t care. It’s because they care too much.
And I cared. I cared because I knew that my performance could bring joy to so many people – you included.”
Campbell’s ultimate conclusion is to ask fans to rethink the way they view failure:
“So here’s the point that I want to make. Let’s change the way we view failure.
It’s seen as a dirty word, something that we should be ashamed of. But let me tell you, it takes a hell of a lot of time, effort, diligence, perseverance and above all courage to get to a place where failure is possible.
Because it is the same place where success is possible. Instead of shaming people, let’s applaud their courage to go and do something that we were not brave enough or capable enough to do ourselves.
Like it or not, I still did a better job out there than any one of you could.
I have one thing to ask of you before I go. And that is to be kind. Think before you type.
Before you begin to limber up your thumbs, ask yourself if you are qualified to level the criticism or insult that is at your fingertips.”
You can read Campbell’s full letter here. Campbell skipped the 2017 World Championships in what she called a “mental health year” and a chance to fully recover from injuries and to “get [her] body right and mind right” to compete through 2020.
Campbell had a great summer of 2018, winning three golds at the Commonwealth Games and then five golds at the Pan Pacific Championships.