Multi-Olympic Gold Medalist Emma McKeon Nearly Retired In 2012

Emma McKeon of Australia has one of the heftiest resumes in the history of swimming. At the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the Wollongong native became her nation’s most successful athlete at a single Games. This year she added the honor of becoming the most decorated athlete in Commonwealth Games history.

But these accolades almost didn’t happen, as McKeon recently told The Guardian she nearly quit swimming altogether after not making the Australian Olympic team for the 2012 Games in London.

Finishing 7th in the women’s 100m freestyle at the Aussie 2012 Olympic Trials, McKeon’s time of 54.35 rendered the future star just .10 shy of making the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay team. Traveling to London to watch her brother, now-retired David McKeon compete, McKeon had to watch from the stands as the Aussie women’s relay ultimately won the gold medal.

“I was really upset after [missing out on London], and then I actually stopped swimming not long after the trials.

“I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, but I didn’t want to wait another four years, so I was like, ‘I’ll just stop.” (The Guardian)

Deciding to submit to her calling to go back to the pool, McKeon earned redemption in spades, taking home four golds and two bronze medals at the 2012 Commonwealth Games. That helped fuel the Griffith University star’s stellar 2016 Olympic Games performances, where she snagged 4 medals, including gold as a member of the Dolphins’ 400m free relay.

Flash forward to this year and McKeon reportedly once again considered stepping away from her aquatic domain.

Coach Michael Bohl told reporters in Birmingham that the star had finished her public health degree and “had to make a decision whether she would choose that path of work or whether she still had competitive ambitions in the pool.”

“She had three months out of the water, we just didn’t know what she was going to do.” (Nine.com)

For McKeon, who is in a relationship with fellow Aussie Commonwealth Games swimmer Cody Simpson, the sprint ace weighed the impact on her mental health when considering her options.

Said Bohl, “It’s hard when you have such a good meet, it’s hard to back up again. It’s not physical, it’s mental. You have to be in the right mental headspace to front up again. She thought about the pros and cons and in the end felt like she still had some improvement.” (Nine.com)

McKeon once again found herself back in the water, opting out of this year’s World Championships but stealing the spotlight big-time at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. All told, McKeon raced her way to a remarkable 8 medals, including individual golds in the women’s 50m free and 50m fly along with a monster haul of 4 relay gold medals.

Speaking from a coach’s perspective regarding the next Olympic Games, Bohl said “I still believe she has a little bit of improvement as well. She’s accepted the challenge of going on to Paris and seeing what she can do at the next Olympics.”

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MarkB
9 days ago

Bravo to the author for shoehorning this tidbit into an article about an almost retirement from 10 years ago – “For McKeon, who is in a relationship with fellow Aussie Commonwealth Games swimmer Cody Simpson, …”

Nice work!

Swimmer
10 days ago

Question that remains is not about retirement–it’s how a 27-year-old woman who never before had won an individual event of any type in 8 previous runs at Olympics, World Championships, and Pan Pacs (even in her butterfly specialty), and with prior complaints of shoulder ailments and considerations of retirement, beats all swimmers in the two freestyle sprint events at 2021 Olympics. Just saying that she switched her training focus to sprints is not enough–has to be more to the story, and it has not been told. Which is permissible, but odd.

Yozhik
Reply to  Swimmer
10 days ago

Maybe it’s not that rare. Didn’t it surprise you that 27 years old woman who was nothing special at previous Olympic cycle wins the gold Olympic medal with the almost untouchable world record. And she does it not in the sprint event but at 400m distance and at most energy consuming discipline: individual medley.
Compare to that McKeon’s case is nothing to talk about. Take it easy.

Joel
Reply to  Swimmer
10 days ago

You are seriously implying what I think you are implying?
She changed her training focus and her belief in herself. Not all females peak at 18 or 20 years old.

Swimmer
Reply to  Joel
9 days ago

Also it’s not like she was a 59 100 freestyler pre-pandemic. She was always right on the cusp of winning, but her training focus let her make the minor adjustments that got her to the top of the podium. Ridiculous implication.

Swim Fan
Reply to  Swimmer
9 days ago

McKeon always on the cusp of winning? Really? Not true (esp in sprint free), but even if so, what were the “minor adjustments”? I agree that it is unusual that they have not been discussed. And there is no reason to view this as a nefarious implication. There are plenty of “legal” methods to improve such as adoption of an inhaler, different diet, different legal supplements or dryland, different coaching, use of medications with a TUE, etc. Again, they have just not been discussed.

Sub13
Reply to  Swim Fan
8 days ago

She was in the top 11 for 5 years straight before winning in Tokyo. The only time she wasn’t top 10 (she was 11th) was in 2018 when she didn’t swim it individually after trials.

You’re delusional.

JVT
Reply to  Sub13
8 days ago

So Top 10 or 11 for five years is now the “cusp of winning”? If you were making the “cusp of winning” argument about C1, you would have more credibility. Aren’t you just making a stronger argument for an explanation to be made as to how McKeon goes from Top 11 for five (interrupted) years to number 1 in, btw, two events in the course of one year?

Robbos
Reply to  JVT
8 days ago

You could ask the same about Bobby Finke????

Sub13
Reply to  JVT
7 days ago

They weren’t interrupted. The 11 in 2018 was the only time she was outside the top 10.

2014: 6
2015: 6
2016: 6
2017: 10
2018: 11
2019: 4
2020: 1
2021: 1

Half of those years are times from trials because she was third behind Cate and Bronte, so probably could have gone faster if she made the team. Having that record despite not even making the team individually in the event is outstanding.

Anyone who claims that her 100 free success came out of nowhere is completely delusional. But stay salty lol.

commonwombat
Reply to  Swimmer
9 days ago

McKeon a butterfly specialist ?? Not sure that stands up. Whilst it’s undeniable she’s been the top 100flyer in AUS since @2014; she’s never been a serious 200 flyer and its more likely the case that freestyle has always been her strongest stroke.

It’s just the case that her road to individual selection in the 50/100free was usually blocked by the Campbells just as her path to a World/Olympic title at 100fly was blocked by the likes of Sjostrom & McNeill. Can’t exactly call any of them “stiffs” ??

Think its more a case of “one door closes” with Titmus asserting dominance at 200free but “another opens” in the 2 shorter freestyle events. She’d been a consistent 52 100free… Read more »

Troyy
Reply to  Swimmer
9 days ago

De Bruijn was the same age in 2000 and far more surprising.

Dan
Reply to  Troyy
8 days ago

If you are rank #1 in the world for the 2 years preceding the Olympic Games, I do not think it is that surprising if that swimmer wins. De Bruijn was the #1 swimmer in 50 Free for 1998 & 1999, although her 1998 time was done at the very end of that swimming year.

Sub13
Reply to  Dan
7 days ago

McKeon was ranked 4 and 1 in the two years preceding Tokyo. Same deal then right?

Sub13
Reply to  Swimmer
9 days ago

This is just so embarrassing. All articles following Tokyo were full of comments about how Emma, Ariarne and Kaylee’s wins were all suspicious. Get a life LOL

Swim2
Reply to  Sub13
7 days ago

I don’t think it is “suspicion” and “implication” or “salty” commenting, but just fair curiosity, esp when other AUS female swimmers have openly discussed using medical techniques that enhance aerobic oxidation or muscle tissue regeneration. For example McKeowns with medically-managed asthma, Titmus with platelet-rich blood plasma (PRP) injections to shoulder and hip in lead-up to Tokyo. On the male AUS side, Chalmers with his unsuccessful PRP use and then resort to surgery. Swimmers, coaches and trainers want to know how other swimmers win, and to learn.
Asthma won’t hold us back say swimming sisters Taylor and Kaylee McKeown – Asthma Australia
Ariarne Titmus Swimming Toward Greatness With Magnificent Olympics

Sub13
Reply to  Swim2
7 days ago

Read the comment again. I don’t understand how any reasonable adult could possibly read that without seeing the implication that something underhanded has gone on.

The fact remains that whenever an Australian does well, this website jumps all over them to find an excuse for why they’re not as good as they seem. But that doesn’t seem to happen for swimmers from other countries (except maybe China and Russia?). Funny that it’s always the three countries that are most competitive with USA are the ones that get trashed on here. Wonder why that could be lol

Troyy
Reply to  Swim2
7 days ago

Dressel uses an inhaler so maybe he can help you with your curiosity about “medically-managed asthma”.

Just Swim
Reply to  Troyy
6 days ago

Of course he does. Summer McIntosh too. Unfortunately, way too high a proportion of swimmers are resorting to inhalers as WADA inexplicably opened the door to widespread use with its lenient conditions and relatively easy TUE access for beta-agoniste inhalers. There seems to be an epidemic of “asthma” in the sport. Off the top of my head, I can name Sarah Sjostrom, Maggie MacNeil, Kelsi Dahlia, and Claire Curzan (Google it)–just in the butterfly realm–as publicly disclosing their asthmatic conditions. What are the odds that (at least) five great female butterfly swimmers of this generation all would be asthma sufferers in need of medicinal assistance?

Sub13
Reply to  Swimmer
8 days ago

FYI going into Tokyo, Emma had won an individual medal in the 50, 100 and 200 free and 100 fly at international competitions.

In her “butterfly speciality” as you (inaccurately) call it, she had an individual bronze and individual silver at worlds, bronze at Pan Pacs, gold at Comm Games and made the Rio Olympic final. Any suggestion that this result is suspicious is laughable. In fact, people often criticise her for not medalling in Rio because she was expected to… and now you turn this around and say it’s suspicious that she’s done well in Tokyo.

She’s consistently been near the top in the world in the 100 free as well. 10th in 2017, 11th in 2018, 4th in… Read more »

Cosi
Reply to  Sub13
7 days ago

Bottom line, based on info provided here, no explanation for McKeon’s rise from #6, #10, #11 for five years pre-2018 in 100 Free (with #6 thru 11 otherwise apparently now known as the “cusp of winning” one event, the 100 Free) to #1 and two Olympic records in two sprint events at age 27 at Tokyo 2021. Thanks for highlighting that.

Robbos
Reply to  Cosi
7 days ago

Mckeon swam 4 individual events for many years, in the 50 & 100 free she was blocked by 2 of the top 4 swimmers in the world in Australia Campbell sisters, her other 2 events 100 butt & 200 free, she was Australia’s no 1 & in the top 3 in the world for both events.
Funny how she only improved in 50 & 100 (the events she focus on) & not the 100 butt & 200 free, maybe the suspicion didn’t affect all her events.

Sub13
Reply to  Cosi
7 days ago

So you’re saying that anyone who wins an Olympic gold who wasn’t already in the top 3 for multiple years prior is suspicious? Are you thinking before you type?

Like honestly this is just embarrassing.

Sub13
Reply to  Cosi
7 days ago

She was a 52.4 in 2019 and improved by less than half a second at the next Olympics. If you raised suspicion about every swimmer over 23 who improved by half a second during an Olympics you’d be suspicious of basically everyone.

There are better ways to spend your time than crying because a swimmer from a country you don’t like is good.

For context, Sjostrom’s WR in 2017 (age 25) was almost a full second faster than her PB from any year prior. Where’s the suspicion around her?

Last edited 7 days ago by Sub13
Swim Time
Reply to  Sub13
6 days ago

So then the explanation is simply that McKeon at age 27 backed into two individual Olympic gold medals because of the decline of the Campbell sisters and Blume, Sjostrom’s injury, and Manuel’s struggles (whatever they were)? The suggestion that something “underhanded” may be going on in Swim AUS is not without merit though, given numerous allegations and an Independent Commission report with over 40 recommendations issued–many regarding coaching and basically none of which have been acted upon by Swim AUS officials.

Robbos
Reply to  Swim Time
5 days ago

I think you will find Mckeon swam an Olympic record in both events to win gold, as a matter of fact her time in the 100, no woman has swam faster in an individual race.
So i think she won it on merit.
Your other accusation, meh.

Meathead
10 days ago

Ending swimming at 18 years old is quitting, not retiring

torchbearer
Reply to  Meathead
10 days ago

Good point- I imagine many young swimmers ‘just miss’ an Olympic Team by less than a second and leave the sport…. leaving hundreds of stories of ‘what ifs’.

Joel
10 days ago

This was fairly well known in Australia (about 2012). She’s said it on a few podcasts and interviews.
The article should say she came back in spades at the 2014 comm games.

Coco
10 days ago

Can we make a rule that we’re not allowed to include the swimmers name and ‘retired’ in the same sentence unless they actually do it, my heart skipped a beat reading that!

Last edited 10 days ago by Coco
Admin
Reply to  Coco
10 days ago

Don’t you know? Swimmers never actually retire.

Thomas
Reply to  Braden Keith
10 days ago

SwimSwam –> Swim-StillSwimming

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Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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