In a recent interview, Australian swimmer James Magnussen reflected on how he’s grown to become grateful for narrowly missing out on the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2012 Olympics.
Magnussen came into the race as the favorite after becoming the first Australian man to win the event at the World Championships in 2011, but he touched the wall .01 seconds behind Nathan Adrian at the London Games the following year.
“It did affect my life, but for the positive,” Magnussen told SEN 1170 Breakfast radio in Australia. “I think my life was headed in a certain direction at 20 years of age. I had all this publicity, all this press, and everyone was pumping my wheels. It affected me in a negative way and I look back and I was headed down a path that would have been less than desirable.
“It humbled me a lot (losing out on gold) and that gave me a really different perspective on life, the media, and how people were treating me,” he added. “I had a lot of ‘yes’ people in my life and around.”
After a disappointing 2012 Games that marked Australia’s worst Olympic showing in two decades, Magnussen caught criticism for pranking teammates and having a “big head.” The following year, he rebounded at the 2013 World Championships by winning his second straight title in the 100 free.
Now 31 years old, Magnussen has had a decade to digest the defeat and gain a new perspective. Not only did the loss motivate him professionally until his retirement in 2019, it seems to also have served as a life lesson outside the pool.
“It had a profoundly positive effect on my life not only in swimming but certainly in my life after sport,” he said. “I’m appreciative of what that moment did for me and the path it set me on.
“I look back on it and I ticked off everything in the swimming world except for that Olympic gold. Not everyone gets a fairytale but all in all, I’m very appreciative of that moment. Everything happens for a reason, and I think I needed that.”
Magnussen ended his career with three Olympic medals, one silver and two bronzes. His 47.10 in the 100 free from the 2012 Australian Swimming Championships remains the 10th-fastest time ever.