Cate Campbell in the pool in Brisbane.
Cate Campbell is back in the pool as she bids for a record-breaking fifth Olympic Games appearance. Image by HANDOUT/WADE BRENNAN
  • swimming

History-chaser Campbell pushing limits in farewell tour

Murray Wenzel December 12, 2023

Nostalgia and the comfort of knowing this is the last time are pushing Cate Campbell’s bid to make Australian Olympic history.

The four-time Games champion has begun her farewell tour at the Queensland championships in the Brisbane Aquatic Centre pool she calls home.

Campbell, back swimming this year after an 18-month lay-off following the Tokyo Games, claimed 100m freestyle bronze on Monday night and then finished third in the 50m freestyle final on Tuesday night.

The 31-year-old, who had qualified third-fastest for the final, finished  behind Shayna Jack (24.43) and Meg Harris (24.63) in 24.70.

It was the same time she clocked earlier and was happy with the performance as she builds towards next June’s Olympic trials, even though it was more than half a second slower than the junior record she set as a 15-year-old in 2008 that still stands today.

“I was 10 when I won my first ever state medal in this pool. I was so proud and got it engraved,” she said.

“As I walked in last night, the same guy that engraved that medal all those years ago was up there engraving medals.”

Campbell will be Australia’s first five-time Olympic swimmer if she makes the team for Paris next year.

But she knows she may need to better her 100m personal best of 52.03, set five years ago, to make it.

The former world-record holder swam 53.34 on Monday night, a time good enough for medals in that event at her first two Olympic Games in Beijing and London.

Cate Campbell with her 4x100m freestyle gold medal at London 2012.
 Cate Campbell (second left) with her 4x100m freestyle gold-medal winning teammates at London 2012. Image by Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS 

“It’s evolving … to qualify for our national final will probably be harder than qualifying for an Olympic final,” she said.

“I could have exited stage left (after Tokyo); could have gone and got a job.

“The harder thing was to get back into the grind, put myself under the spotlight.

“My goal coming back is to see how fast I can be, see where my absolute limits are, and to challenge myself and the way we view this sport as a young person’s sport.

“Us old timers still have a bit of spring in us.”

Cate Campbell.
 Cate Campbell is testing how fast she can be as she targets an Olympic farewell in Paris next year. Image by EPA PHOTO 

The Tokyo flagbearer is aiming to compete at least three more times before June’s Olympic trials in Brisbane.

“I forgot how tough it was, turns out swimming’s really hard,” Campbell said of her return earlier this year.

“My body’s very different to what it was when I first started.

“I’ve had four cortisone injections this year into different joints.

“I’m ‘WD40-ing’ all my rusty old joints, lubricating them to hold me up for the next seven months.”

Campbell says she’s comfortable knowing her efforts may not prove enough to clinch a Paris berth, able to cherish the moment from a privileged position.

“You often remember the first time you do something,” she said.

“Ride a bike, first love, first day at school … we’re not often given the opportunity to be aware of the last time we do something.”

World champion Cam McEvoy (21.84) was victorious in the men’s 50m freestyle going under 22 seconds, beating Tho Nowakowski (22.19) and Isaac Cooper (22.44).