Cate Campbell (20 May, 1992) is an Australian freestyle sprinter that has recorded some of the fastest times in history at 50m and 100m, and is the current (2013) 100m world champion.
Cate was born in Blantyre, Malawi, before moving with her family to Australia as a nine-year-old. Shortly afterwards she took up competitive swimming, and within a few years she was competing in the upper echelons of Australian swimming. In 2008 she broke the Australian and Commonwealth 50m freestyle records, and competed in her first Olympics in Beijing, where she won bronze medals in 50m freestyle and 4x100m freestyle relay. At the 2009 World Championships in Rome, she took home the 50m free bronze, but 2010 proved to be frustrating as she struggled with injury and illness.
After working herself back to fitness, Cate returned to the podium in 2011 with medal finishes at the Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, China, and the FINA/Arena World Cup. London 2012 marked her second Olympics, where she won gold with the 4x100m freestyle relay team, and made the 50m freestyle semi-finals along with younger sister Bronte, despite a bout with pancreatitis in the middle of the Games.
Back to her best in 2013, the older Campbell went into the World Championships in Barcelona as Australia’s number one in both freestyle sprint events, and capped a highly successful meet with her first major individual gold as she dominated the field with a blistering time of 52.34, the fourth fastest 100m freestyle ever. She also took silver in the 50m free, with Bronte ending fifth, and then handed off to her younger sister as the Australian 4x100m freestyle relay team narrowly came second in a thrilling race, despite Cate’s best-ever textile time of 52.33 on the kickoff leg. She won a third silver medal in the 4x100m medley relay.
Having now established herself at the pinnacle of the sport, Cate is looking forward to 2014: “I kick off the year with the BHP Billiton Super Series in January, then I have the Australian National Championships in April, which double as a selection meet for the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Championships. Assuming all goes to plan I will then have Commonwealth Games in Glasgow from the 24th-29th of July, followed by the Pan Pacific Championships from the 24th-28th of August on the Gold Coast (of Australia).”
By her own admission, Cate Campbell is addicted to swimming. “Some people might say I'm crazy and sometimes I think I'm crazy as well, but it's what I love to do and I'm incredibly lucky to be able to do it and able to do it well,” she says. If “crazy” and “addicted” is what it takes to do as well as she does, then so be it, the swimming world is all the better for it. Example – in Barcelona at the 2013 World Champs, she swam the two fastest 100m freestyle times in history in a textile suit, and broke 53s five times in a spectacular year, which saw her unbeaten at 100m since London 2012.
It all started some twenty-plus years ago back in Blantyre, Malawi, where she and her four siblings were born, and where her mother taught her to swim in Africa’s third largest body of freshwater, Lake Malawi. Having moved to Australia when she was nine, she joined a swim club along with a number of her siblings, since her parents thought it would be a good way to meet people in their new home. The next step – competitive swimming – grew from a desire to beat younger sister Bronte, and the rest, as they say, is a living history.
Remarkably, Cate has only ever had one coach – Simon Cusack – since she was nine, and she credits him with much of her growth and achievements. “There is a mutual trust and respect between us and I owe my success to him. He has (plotted) uncharted waters in sprint events, … (and) he thinks outside the box and questions traditions. It takes someone who is brave to do that.” Over the years he has favoured speed over distance in her training, and to a large extent replicated the race regime in practice, making the transition from training to racing as smooth as possible. He also has supreme confidence in his charge, likening her in the past to the uneaten Australian thoroughbred racehorse, Black Caviar. Simon’s standout work with Cate and 100m breaststroke world champion, Christian Sprenger, was rewarded in 2013 with the Australian Institute of Sports’ Coach of the Year award, beating out coaches from not only swimming, but all other sports as well.
While Simon has been instrumental in Cate’s success from a technical standpoint, her family has been just as important from an emotional and moral support perspective. It’s a very close-knit unit, even if it can be “noisy and chaotic” at times, and also occasionally embarrassing – in 2012 father Eric gushed a little too exuberantly in public for Cate and Bronte’s taste after they had both qualified for the Olympics, prompting aspiring lawyer Bronte to draw up a contract prohibiting him from repeating the outburst. Cate has a huge amount of admiration for her mother, and how she takes care of all five siblings, which aside from swimmers Cate and Bronte, include Jessica, Hamish, and Abigail, who are younger than Cate by four, six, and nine years respectively.
When it comes to next-youngest sibling, Bronte, who swims the same events as Cate, the sisters have a healthy sense of competition, but the family connection still runs deeper than anything. To illustrate: “The best moment of my career was at the 2012 Australian National Championships where me and Bronte finished 1st and 2nd in the 50m Freestyle to qualify for the London Olympics.” Not her world championship title, not her Olympic gold medal, but the chance to compete at the Olympics with her sister, this is the highlight of her career. Woven into this singular sentiment is the thread of an unbreakable familial bond that supersedes all else.
While swimming obviously dominates Cate’s life, it’s not the only thing on her mind. “I’m a big believer in life balance,” she says. “If I wasn’t working on something outside the pool, I’d be studying something, even if it wasn’t necessarily something I’d want to do later on (in life). Swimming can become a really unhealthy obsession. I have a group of friends beyond swimming and that’s important to me.” Some of these non-swimming friends even ask her if she “got a good score” when she comes back from competition.
So what else happens in that “other” part of her life? Ice cream and milkshakes (when her regimen allows); reading, baking, swimming at the beach; Blood Diamond, Bridget Jones, and The Young Victoria on the silver screen; Muse, Coldplay, Mumford & Sons on her iPod; and The Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling), Persuasion (Jane Austin), and Lustrum (Robert Harris) in her library. In fact, having already met Prince Phillip and Princess Mary of Denmark, the person she’d most like to meet is J.K. Rowling. It’s probably no great surprise, then, that incorrect grammar makes her angry; other things that push her buttons include the unknown (makes her scared), injustice (makes her sad), and – yes of course – family and friends (makes her happy).
If she had the time, she’d love to learn another language and to sing, and to see London as a visitor rather than as an Olympian. What she does have time for is charity work, which she does through a community relations program for Australia Post (the government-owned postal corporation), as well as helping out at her disabled brother’s school. And while talk of hanging up her swimsuit is horribly premature, she hints at an interest in sports journalism when her competitive career is over.
But that, of course, is still way in the future. With her first world title just under her belt, in many ways it seems that it’s all just beginning. So she’ll keep feeding off that addiction to swimming, that love of competition, as she continues to “work hard, dream big, make sacrifices, and enjoy the ride.” And when she’s done “living her fears, realizing her dreams, and obtaining her goals,” she’d like to be remembered as “a tough but fair competitor who pushed the boundaries.”
There’s still a story to be written, though, and one senses that it might become a legend. Especially when she thinks aloud: "I think that once you get a taste of swimming fast and winning it's a very hard thing to forget. You definitely want to keep replicating it."