Australian Olympic gold medallist Bronte Campbell says this year’s games in Tokyo are likely to be her last, as she begins to look towards life beyond the pool.
The 27-year-old, who represented Australia at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, concedes that Paris in 2024 may be a bridge too far for her aching body.
A member of the victorious 4x100m freestyle relay team in Rio, Campbell has battled shoulder, neck and hip injuries for more years than she cares to remember.
“I’m pretty sure this will be my last Games,” she told Wide World of Sports. “It may not be my last swimming meet, there’s some meets next year, the world championships and the Commonwealth Games, but I don’t see myself going another three years and doing another Olympics cycle.
“I’m saying that’s most likely, because I don’t know how I’ll feel when I get to the other side of it, and I’ll use that to help me make my decision, but most likely Tokyo is the last one.”
Campbell stars alongside Kyle Chalmers, Cody Simpson and Ian Thorpe in Amazon Prime’s new documentary Head Above Water, which delves into Campbell’s journey towards the upcoming Australian Swimming Trials starting in Adelaide later this week.
It’s a road that has included many twists and turns, given the Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for last year, but were delayed by 12 months due to the coranavirus outbreak.
“I feel very sad for a lot of people, because for many it’s their only Olympics,” she said.
“The beautiful thing about the Games is going to the dining hall and mixing with everyone. You learn about other sports and other athletes, I absolutely love that side of it.
“It’s really sad that we won’t have that, or the second week where you get to watch the other sports after the swimming is finished.”
The delay also meant another year of the training grind, something not necessarily appreciated when you’ve already been to two Olympics.
“Yeah it was pretty tricky, because I was hanging out for it in July 2020,” Campbell concedes. “There was so many things I wanted to do and had planned for the latter half of 2020. It went from having a few months until the Games to all of a sudden having 18 months to wait.
“It is a big difference, but having that extra year gives you opportunities that didn’t exist before. For me, that was stripping things back. I didn’t actually have a choice, because our pool got taken away from us for eight weeks.
“But within that, there’s the opportunity to do rehab on my shoulder, which you don’t get time to do when there’s a major meet every year. While it wasn’t ideal, and I didn’t really want it, once we had the extra year it was about figuring out how to make the best of it.”
With age comes perspective, and the prospect of an enforced break from the pool in 2020 didn’t faze Campbell, who took three months off after the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
While some might worry that the lack of laps would hinder their performance, Campbell knows from experience that the opposite may actually be true.
“Taking a break is something that’s really underrated in sports,” she explained. “We’ve seen it in swimming, a lot of swimmers have had their first ever break. We don’t get them normally. We don’t have an off-season.
“But they’ve come back even stronger in 2021, they’re swimming faster than ever, which technically, given what we’ve been told in the past, shouldn’t happen.
“I feel lucky that I took three months off in 2018, I missed the Pan-Pacs, so I know it’s actually good for you, and easier than I thought to come back from a break.
“If I hadn’t had the break in 2018, I don’t think I would have made it to 2021. Breaks are a seriously underrated commodity.”
Campbell is no certainty to qualify for the individual events in Tokyo, noting that the race for Australian 100m freestyle spots is amongst the most competitive in the world.
Older sister Cate, along with Emma McKeon, shape as Bronte’s biggest rivals, although she admits the performance of others is something she simply can’t control.
“I’m not sure what to expect because we haven’t seen everyone competing like this for such a long time,” she said. “It’s a very stressful meet, trying to qualify for an Olympics, but also incredibly exciting.
“I’m confident that my body’s in good shape and I can step up and swim when it matters.
“But whether you’re top two is just as much about how everyone else swims as how you swim.”
And as much as Campbell’s looking forward to a third Games, she’s also keen to see what comes after Tokyo.
“You love it when you’re there, but on the other hand you can’t wait for it to be over and reach the other side,” she said.
“What happens at an Olympics has such a big impact on the rest of your life, but then there’s the relief of stepping back and being able to hang out with friends and family, and de-stress, and come to terms with whatever result happened at the Games, whether that was good or bad.”
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