“You can bend but never break me. ’Cos it only serves to make me more determined to achieve my final goal. And I come back even stronger. Not a novice any longer. Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.”
Cate Campbell needed a little extra help to keep the nagging reminders of Rio at arm’s length this week in Tokyo, so she settled on Helen Reddy, the Australian songstress whose anthem has been flooding her ears from the moment she touched down in Japan.
“In terms of how I kept the memories at bay, I have pretty much had I Am Woman on repeat in my head, because the lyrics are just about the most perfect thing I have heard coming into this meet,” Campbell said. “I tried as much as I could to enjoy it [the meet], I’ll enjoy it a lot more after the race than before though.”
Fellow Australian Emma McKeon would be the one standing on top of the podium after the 100m freestyle final on Friday, something Campbell had so desperately wanted to achieve in Rio in 2016. On that occasion, as unbackable favourite, she twitched on the blocks, then faded to miss the medals in the most heartbreaking swim of her otherwise exceptional career.
She spent the next five years trying to get her head right should the moment present again, returning to the Olympics a more mature athlete and young woman: “I’m a person first and a swimmer second.”
This time, she didn’t blink. Her time of 52.52 would have taken gold at any other Games and in the fastest 100m final ever swum, was good enough for bronze. Campbell was overjoyed. The medal truly was a bonus, because she had wanted nothing more than to deliver under pressure when she was given the chance to atone.
“So, so pleased with that performance, so pleased with that race. So incredibly proud of the week I’ve managed to put together,” Campbell said. “There were, understandably, quite a few demons knock on my door this morning when I woke up. But I held them all at bay and I performed when it counted and I get to stand on an Olympic podium.”
At 29 and in her fourth Games, Campbell is a study of resilience, mentally, emotionally and physically. Her torrid experienced in 2016 would have been too much for so many athletes. But Campbell took time to heal herself, then returned to her craft renewed intent.