Cate Campbell to ‘Keyboard Warriors’: ‘It’s Time We Talked’

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.

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Swim Fan
2 years ago

Love, love, love this. I hope all the keyboard warriors read and reflect on these powerful words.

25 free champ
Reply to  Swim Fan
2 years ago

Ironically you’re being down voted by a bunch of keyboard warriors.

Reply to  25 free champ
2 years ago

I think you’re giving these guys too much credit, referring to them as “keyboard warriors”, since neither of the 122 people (so far) have managed to leave a single written comment, explaining their dissent. A three-year-old can downvote a comment. When all is said and done, it doesn’t really bear much weight. ^_^

2 years ago

C1 for the win.

Reply to  Scribble
2 years ago

Cate, how about giving some acknowledgment that certain swimmers just flat out swam better than you did on a couple of given days at the Rio Olympics? So disrespectful to your opponents who took the gold to just label yourself a “choker.” You lost a couple of big races, get over it and stop taking yourself so seriously, It is swimming, not brain surgery,

Reply to  Lou
2 years ago

That’s your takeaway here?

Reply to  Lou
2 years ago

Have you seen her relay splits in Rio 2016? She would have won with those times so I don’t think before she is lying. It’s sad that we need haters like you in this world and in Swimming.

Reply to  Liam
2 years ago

Lou did you see that thing fly over your head?

Oh that was the point….

You missed it…


2 years ago

“Like it or not, I still did a better job out there than any one of you could.”


Steve Nolan
Reply to  swimmerswammer123
2 years ago

Agreed. Like, half of it is really good! And then the other half is “do you know who I am!??!” type ranting.

Reply to  Steve Nolan
2 years ago

The first half was not really good. I knew where it was leading as I read it. I’ve seen this countless times before, although seldom from athletes. Cate felt compelled to throw in that touchy sympathetic stuff to warm the audience in her favor before she executed the sole reason for her letter, which was the final few paragraphs beginning with, “do something that we were not brave enough or capable enough to do ourselves.” From that point forth it was impossible not to laugh. It read like a parody. Others have said she needed more peer review before submission. I disagree. I believe Cate said exactly what she meant to say in those final few paragraphs, and as she… Read more »

2 years ago

And you have done… Nothing. She’s right.

Reply to  swimmerswammer123
2 years ago

Sarah Sjostrom reading it like oop

Reply to  swimmerswammer123
2 years ago

A little contradictory to follow this statement with “Be kind, think before you type” Cate should spend less time writing articles pretending to be okay and more time actually working through her performance issues. At the end of the day the result will speak louder than anything she says.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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