Aussie swimming champion Emma McKeon has revealed the secret to dominating the pool at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games while managing the searing spotlight on her past and present relationships – a good old cry.
The new queen of the pool has been breathtaking in Birmingham, with her 20 medals earned in the pool a Commonwealth Games record and two clear of her nearest rival.
She also has 11 Olympic medals, five of them gold, to assert herself as the genuine GOAT of the pool at all levels for Australian swimmers.
But her feats in Birmingham have come under intense scrutiny of her current relationship with fellow Team Australia swimmer and former pop star Cody Simpson, her former boyfriend and Commonwealth Games swimmer Kyle Chalmers and reports of a tense love triangle that just won’t quit.
Each member of the trio has reacted differently.
Simpson has elected to flat bat questions with the patient guile of Bill Lawry in his Test cricket prime. Chalmers has exploded at the media and threatened to quit the sport altogether.
McKeon? While publicly she chosen to speak only about her feats in the pool, privately she admits that there have been many tears before lifting herself up to compete.
‘It was obviously a pretty tough week. There were lots of good parts to it. Obviously sharing it with [partner] Cody [Simpson] and having both my parents in the stands every time I raced. That was special because they couldn’t be in Tokyo,’ she told News Corp.
‘There were so many amazing parts of the week but yes, there were tough parts as well. I’ll say it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions.’
She adds: ‘You try to stay stable through the course of a week as big as this one, but the emotions can build up and I do let them out.
‘You can’t try to be a robot. I’m not a robot. You try to keep yourself together as much as you can, but yeah, there’s times when I just let it all go and have a decent cry.’
McKeon admits that she is not a public person and is a classic introvert, which is not the ideal combination with the highs and lows of fame and glory.
She says letting her emotions out has been her coping mechanism and was what propelled her to win seven medals in Tokyo, the most by any female swimmer at a single Olympic Games.
‘I started stressing out a bit. I’d come point-one-three of a second off gold in the 100m fly and once I saw how close it was, I was really disappointed and thought it was a missed opportunity. It got to me because I just wasn’t feeling how I wanted to feel.’
‘You’re always learning as you go,’ she says. ‘This week I feel like I’ve learned that I’ve probably got a lot of control over my mind. Dealing with failure is huge and I’ve improved there.
‘That’s something you take into the rest of your life, right? Dealing with disappointments and just being able to handle yourself in difficult situations … I think I learned this week that I can do that pretty well. Not putting too much pressure on myself has been a challenge and that’s not an easy thing for me to do.
‘I have big expectations for myself and this week I needed to bring myself back to, this is kind of square one again on the way to Paris. Allowing myself not to overdo it with the pressure was a big deal.’
Now, while other athletes are likely to paint the Birmingham town red, McKeon is likely to retreat to an isolated beach somewhere with Simpson to recharge.
It has been mentally exhausting as much as it has been physical and McKeon says the downtime will help her recharge for another assault on the pool at the Paris Olympics.
‘The main thing was definitely the mental toll,’ she said. ‘It’s been a big week. It was physically tough but I’ve trained for that. Mentally, you have to get up to race and then no matter what the result is, you have to come down to rest and recover.
‘Then you have to get up again to race again. Then you have to come down again. Doing that 16 times in a week has been a lot. It can be exhausting but it’s worth it. Part of the challenge you’ve decided to put yourself through.’
‘I used to be really hard on myself when I wasn’t happy with the time I’d done or I if hadn’t swum a race the way I knew was capable of. Whereas now I get a bit annoyed but that’s about it. It’s more helpful.
‘I think it’s what makes me better for next time. I’m better at just picking the things I need to improve on and taking it from there instead of beating myself up for not doing something as well as I could have.
‘I do see now that I’m probably doing pretty well.’