Article by Steve Butler
Golden girl notches a magical new milestone Emma McKeon’s bold decision to shun more glory and to focus on her wellness has edged her ahead of her childhood heroes to become Australia’s most decorated Commonwealth Games athlete.
After her heroics at the Tokyo Olympics when she became Australia’s most prolific medal winner at a single Games, McKeon decided to take time out from swimming and become the girl next door in her NSW home town of Wollongong.
That meant she ruled herself out of the Australian national titles and the World Championships in Budapest and gave up the chance of further filling an already bulging glory cabinet. But the break proved to be a masterstroke as she blitzed the 50m women’s freestyle final in Birmingham in the time of 23.99sec. to lead a podium clean sweep for Australia, with Meg Harris claiming silver and Shayna Jack bronze.
It was her 11th career Commonwealth Games gold medal, eight years after her first in Glasgow and saw her pass the totals of her idols Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill and Leisel Jones. And she still has the chance to win four more medals. The magnitude of the moment in that context had her struggling for words. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” McKeon said after being told she had broken the record. “I just get in there and do my best and take each race one at a time. (The) 50 is a fun event for me and I feel like I’m a lot more relaxed than last year, a lot happier. It’s really nice to be mentioned alongside some of those names and I will be part of that history for years to come, hopefully . They’re the ones who inspired me when I was young. I remember watching them on TV and that lit the fire in me.” It was by no means certain McKeon would continue swimming after Tokyo.
But she has emerged from her hiatus with a new love – Dolphins teammate and former pop star Cody Simpson – and new goals. The 28-year-old has made it no secret she is using Birmingham as a stepping stone to the 2024 Paris Olympics, where she could cement her status as the greatest Australian Olympian of all time. Aside from her few months at home, she also credited her current form to the uncompromising mindset of Simpson, in a new relationship that has dominated headlines because of ties with her former beau and their current Australian teammate Kyle Chalmers.
She recently told Channel 7’s Spotlight program during an exclusive interview with the pair that his transition from the stage to the pool had become a driving force for her return to the sport’s elite level. “He believed that he could do it and that’s something that’s inspiring for me and a lot of people . . . just to believe in yourself and you can get there,” she said. “I’m someone that puts pressure on myself to do what I want to do and he’s the same.”