Why Cate didn’t quit after ‘Tokyo derailment’
As the public face of the Aussie team for the Tokyo Olympics, Cate Campbell carries an extra load that few elite athletes have ever had to bear.
You wouldn't pick it from her cheerful appearances on national television, but Australia's golden girl has been through the wringers during the global pandemic.
Like everyone else gunning for gold, Campbell's world imploded on the wretched day COVID-19 forced the postponement of the biggest sporting event on the planet.
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After picking herself up from the disappointment of Rio and getting into the best shape of her life, it was a crushing setback she hadn't foreseen.
"It was a bit of a derailment," she said.
"I'd been tracking really, really well and kind of putting all my energy and focus into peaking on the 24th July this year and so it kind of knocked me off track a little bit."
No-one would have blamed Campbell if she disappeared behind closed doors to grieve in private but her first thoughts were with the hundreds of other Australian Olympians she knew were also hurting.
More than ever, they needed some reassurance, so with her sister, Bronte, by her side, she drove her car to Dee Why Beach for a stunning photo shoot that perfectly captured her defiance and sent a message to the nation's most vulnerable athletes that everything would be all right.
Secretly though, Campbell's mind was playing tricks on her and she's experienced the full rollercoaster of emotions.
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A natural optimist, she kept herself busy during the eight-week lockdown by taking up new hobbies but she also realised she had to get her head in the right space before returning to the water.
"My initial instinct once the Games were postponed was to get back in and start training immediately because I didn't want to lose any strength or any fitness, but with Olympics you actually have to play a bit of a long game," she said.
"So I made a really conscious effort to slow down and relax a bit and enjoy some time off because we're not going to be getting any more time off now we have an Olympics in 12 months.
"I want to be at my peak physically and mentally when the Games are happening, rather than peaking now and just trying to hold on to make it through to the Games."
On the one-year-to-go anniversary to Tokyo 2021, Campbell's determination to compete at a fourth Olympics is stronger than ever.
That wasn't the case immediately after Rio when she needed a break from the sport after winning a second gold medal in the relay but missing the podium in her individual events.
With her place among Australia's greatest freestyle sprinters already assured, she could easily have walked away there and then, but the lure of the Olympics drew her back.
"People don't want to be just world champions, they want to be Olympians and they want to be Olympic gold medallists," she said.
"It carries that extra element of prestige and a little bit of grandeur, but for me it's just a chance to see how much better I can get and how you can stack yourself up against the best in the world.
"And there's something about representing Australia at an Olympic Games, it's unlike anything else.
"When you're walking around an Olympic Village and you're wearing your Australian uniform, people say 'hey Australia' so you kind of lose that individuality but you embody what it means to be an Australian and that's something I really love."
No matter what happens next year, Tokyo may not be the end of the Olympic road for Campbell. Already 28, she hasn't ruled out competing at a record fifth Olympics at Paris in 2028.
"I have thought about it and I'm like 'three years is not that far', maybe if I took a year off then build back for two years maybe it's doable," she said.
"I never say never, I haven't committed yes but I also haven't committed no.
"I wasn't planning on retiring straight after Tokyo. I always thought I'd go a couple more years. Is three years a couple more years, maybe?"
Originally published as Why Cate didn't quit after 'Tokyo derailment'