We spoke to Australian swimmer Emma McKeon about her incredible #YOGJourney, which has already taken her to the top of the Olympic podium, as she is currently shining at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Since winning six medals at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Singapore 2010, Australian swimmer Emma McKeon has been collecting medals at an electrifying pace that almost matches her world-class speed in the pool. The 23-year-old was Australia’s most decorated swimmer at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 – winning a gold, two silvers and a bronze – and at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest (Hungary), where she won a further six medals, becoming the first Australian woman to win so many at a single World Championships.
She also won four golds and two bronzes at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and has added six medals to her growing collection at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which are currently being held in her adopted hometown on Australia’s Gold Coast - 4 gold and 2 bronze.
How do you reflect on your experiences at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where you won four medals?
“I don't really think about it too much. When I do, I think, ‘Wow, that really happened’. It's definitely made me excited to go to another Olympic Games. I always imagined that I would just go to one, but then after Rio I just thought, ‘There's no way I'm stopping this, I want to keep going’. There's so much more I want to do, so many more things I want to achieve. I guess before Rio, I never really thought of medals or anything, but all of a sudden I was coming home with four Olympic medals and now I want to win more.”
Having won those four medals, you were the most successful YOG athlete in Rio. Were you aware of that, and how does that make you feel?
“I wasn't aware of that actually. I guess that makes me feel pretty proud, because after missing out on the Olympic Games London 2012, when I didn't make the team, I gave up swimming and I didn't want to do it anymore. I wanted to go to the Olympic Games, but I didn't want to waste another four years training for it only to miss out. So I stopped swimming and I had a break from it all, and then obviously came back. I'm so glad that I did, and I think it was a blessing in disguise that I didn't make that London team because then maybe I wouldn't have got the results I did in Rio. I had a different mindset and wanted to come back into swimming and enjoy it for what it was, and I think that's really helped my success so far.”
Having won medals at the YOG Singapore 2010, did that give you the confidence to go on and succeed on the senior stage?
“I think so. I never really focus on medals at all when I'm going to events, and I remember for the YOG I never really thought that I would win medals. I was thinking I’d maybe get to the finals, and it would just be good racing experience. But since I did win medals, it made me realise that maybe I could be a successful swimmer on the open stage. Later that year, I made my first senior team in Australia for the World Short Course Championships in Dubai (UAE), so it just sort of kept going from there.”
What impact would you say the YOG have had on your career?
“It made me really aspire to make the Olympic Games. I always knew from a young age that I wanted to go to the Olympic Games, and then making the YOG really motivated me even more. It kind of gives you that taste of the Olympic Games, just on a smaller scale. I was very excited to be part of the YOG; at that time, it was a massive thing for me. I think it's really helped me get to where I am today because it gave me that really nice introduction into international racing and being a bit more professional.”
How important can the YOG be in a young athlete’s career?
“I think you're pretty lucky if you get the opportunity to go to the YOG before you go to the Olympic Games, because it's a good preparation and something that helps you when you're still young and before you step onto that bigger stage. You're lucky if you get to go to that and prepare for it like that, because once you get to the Olympic Games it’s not as daunting, as you’ve already experienced a little bit of it at the YOG.”
Do you have a message for the young athletes competing in Buenos Aires this year as they prepare to begin their own Olympic journey?
“I would tell them just to soak up the whole experience and really enjoy it. You're pretty lucky to get the opportunity to be able to go to an event like this and you want to look back on it and remember how much fun it was. You work really hard to get there, so once you get there you need to enjoy it.”
And looking further ahead, what are your main targets?
“I'm definitely looking ahead to Tokyo 2020. We’ve already had the first year in the four-year cycle and I was able to make progress from Rio, improving my positions and improving my times. That's really what I'm looking to do each year; move up the ranks, improve my times and find things that I need to work on. Each year, I’m chipping away at different things and then hopefully in Tokyo I’ll be able to reach the goals that I set for myself.”